Sunday, November 13, 2011

Become a Runner! Part 1: The mile and the benefits

Gym class, fourth grade.  The year we began physical fitness testing.  The mile. 

The mile was the bane of my existence from age ten to eighteen. Why did gym teachers need to time us, to compare our abilities, and make it painfully public how slow some of us were?  Maybe if I hadn’t been forced to run in front of my speedier peers all those years, I wouldn’t have hated running so much.  And I did—I hated running.

When I was twenty, I found myself without a gym and thus without access to my go-to exercise routine.  Instead of plugging away at the elliptical, I began circling an outdoor track two-to-three mornings a week.  Having built up endurance in other forms of cardio, I was finally able to run around the field four times—a mile—without stopping.  It wasn’t easy, I couldn’t do it every time, and I would be huffing and puffing at the end.  Still, I started to actually enjoy it!  It was kind of nice to be outdoors in the sun, a great way to wake up and start the day.

When I returned to my gym, I went back to my old ways: the elliptical, the bike, and kickboxing.  These workouts kept my endurance alive, but I’d reverted back to my hate-hate relationship with running.  Surprisingly, my doctors often asked, upon checking my vitals, if I was a runner.  “No… I do work out, but I’m not a runner,” I’d reply.

Why not?  Why couldn’t I be a runner?  Apparently, my body appears to be capable of it.  Maybe it’s in my head.  I decided to start running a mile on the treadmill to warm up my body before a strength workout.  Sometimes, I push myself to run a mile outdoors when I only had time for a 10-minute workout in the morning. The mile—that big scary mile from middle school—is no longer as daunting as it once was; I finally conquered the mile. 

It may not seem like much, but it was a huge accomplishment for my gym-class fifth-grade self.  Maybe I can be a runner, and maybe you can, too!  Although indoor, machine-driven forms of cardio are surely worthwhile, there seems to be something special about running in the great outdoors.  Read more to see why you might want to be a runner.

Reasons to Run
  •  It’s the easiest, cheapest form of exercise around!  All you need are some sneakers and you’re good to go!  Even if you don’t have perfect form, you know how to get from one place to another quickly.  Proper form and gait, etc can come later.
  •  Even though it’s cheap and easy, it gets your heart pumping!  Carrying your own body weight, you blast a ton of calories!  Which is why it’s great for weight loss: Running, you burn about 10 calories a minute! In one 6 mph mile, you could burn 100 calories.  Talk about time-effective! As I mentioned above, it’s a great way to get in a quick, full-body workout when all you’ve got is 10 minutes.
  • Prevent disease: lower blood pressure, improve lung power, and reduce your risk of illness and disease.  According to Women’s Health, joggers “have a leg up against heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and running has been shown to lower blood pressure, raise good cholesterol, and boost immunity to colds and other viruses.
  • Psychological benefits: “Runner’s high” is real.  The endorphins released during exercise help improve mood and even treatpsychological disorders such as depression and anxiety .  It also helps with ease stress.  In addition to the endorphin rush, running gives you time to think, focus on your latest challenge, or just clear your head completely.
  •  Contrary to claims that it’s bad for your joints, more and more studies are showing that running can actually be good for your bones.  Running can strengthen the ligaments around your joints and also prevent osteoporosis.  If you're not already injured, running may actually benefit your joints!  Research to date does show conflicting evidence, though, so if you are injured or already have joint or bone problems, please talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program.  If you are looking to reduce impact, you can try running on a treadmill, or otherwise build up cardio endurance on the elliptical or a bike; these are good alternatives to high-impact activities like running.

So there's a quick summary of how running can benefit both your body and mind.  The reasons sound good on paper, but don't even come close to explaining how good it can feel to actually go out and do it. So join me in becoming a runner--I dare you!

This is part one in a series on running.  I took on the challenge of taking my workout to the treadmill and the track.
Click here for Part 2: Did I just do that?
Click here for Part 3: I DID IT! 

Check back here to follow my own running journey and look for tips and tools for becoming a runner, or an even better runner, yourself.

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