The Benefits of Exercise and How to Avoid Injury
“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.”
– Jacqueline Gareau
As a new runner, avoiding injury can be difficult. And if you are a seasoned runner, being injured is something we all have dealt with at some point. But even if you are in shape from lifting weights or some other form of exercise, your body may not be used to the repeated motion and impact involved when you run.
But the benefits of running and exercise far outweigh the rare occurrence of injury for most people. By learning about the benefits, it can help motivate you to get through the difficult times you are bound to experience as a new runner.
Benefits of Running and Exercise
The physical benefits of running and exercise have long been known. The consensus among experts is it is important to stay physically active, and exercise can improve a person’s health when done regularly.
Per the research, exercise helps to lose weight, improve the heart and blood system, and prevent the onset of many diseases. It enhances the effectiveness of the heart and boosts the immune system. Exercise can also help to improve the brain and nervous system. It strengthens bones and muscles and increases your chances of living longer. What’s not to love?
Let’s face it, along with all the benefits above, running and exercise make you look better too. The confidence gained from losing weight or putting on some muscle is not measurable, especially for a new runner or someone new to exercise.
The mental health benefits of running and exercise are often overlooked. Many studies have shown participation in regular physical exercise reduces stress, improves and stabilizes mood, and helps with sleep and self-esteem.
Research has also shown sufficient evidence exists for the effectiveness of exercise in treating clinical depression. And from this review of numerous studies, “the effects of physical activity might stimulate a complex system and trigger a cascade of events, which, for example, result in higher resilience against (stress-associated) mental disorders.”
What happens when you run?
When we run, we release chemicals called endorphins which trigger a positive feeling like that of morphine. Endorphins also interact with receptors in your brain that decrease your perception of pain. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals for your brain.
Running and exercise also has the added benefit of improving sleep. We work too much, are anxiety-ridden and stressed out. We forego sleep instead of doing tasks we need to get done. How many times have you laid awake in bed worrying about the previous day’s events? Or you worry about what needs to happen tomorrow? Running can help us lessen the worry and anxiety involved in everyday life.
Running is also thought to increase serotonin production and release. Serotonin is a chemical found in the brain, and in other areas of the body, and is believed to regulate mood, appetite, sleep and sexual desire and function. Researchers also think a lack of serotonin can lead to depression. Aerobic exercise such as running seems to be the best for increasing serotonin levels but any form of exercise can help.
Getting Started — Avoiding Injury for New Runners
When I started running, I ran with no plan in mind. This was a mistake which resulted in having to take time off due to several injuries. To keep your body healthy enough to run regularly, you need to have a set plan in place and follow these 3 things to help you get a healthy start.
1. Buy New Running Shoes
Before starting your journey as a new runner, I recommend visiting a specialty running shoe store in your area. I can’t overstate the importance of getting fitted for a shoe. I made the mistake of picking a pair of shoes that were on clearance and although they were running shoes, it led to injury and having to take a significant amount of time off. Most people believe they can go pick out a name brand shoe the same size as what they wear for everyday use but this is not always the case. I wear a size 9 shoe, but after being fitted, the shoe I chose was a 10 1/2. Each person (and shoe) will be different.
Most specialty running stores will watch you run either on a treadmill or outside, analyze your gait, and recommend a shoe based on your running style and foot. While running shoes can be expensive, I recommend you spend the money and buy a good pair. It is well worth the cost and may prevent injury. When starting out, good shoes are the only expense I recommend you invest in. Later down the road, once you become obsessed like me, you can buy other running items.
2. Listen To Your Body
Listening to your body is important not only for running but any form of exercise. If you experience pain and it becomes worse while you are running, stop. There will be some aches and pains when you run and that is normal. But a medical professional should evaluate aches and pains which do not go away.
When I started running, I became obsessed with learning everything I could. I learned about form, shoes, gadgets, training plans, and anything to do with running. (I still do this). The problem is I didn’t listen to my body. During my runs, I would concentrate on how my feet landed or how my arms were moving. I worried about pace and how far I was going.
This led to my many injuries. Knee problems, shin splints, IT band issues, you name it; I had it. I tried to change my form based on what I read instead of just running and using my natural form. Once I realized this, my runs became better, and the injuries went away.
While form is important, don’t obsess over trying to run like the pros at first. Your body has a natural gait which you should follow when you are just starting out. And after you become more comfortable, I highly recommend this book for form and running.
3. Allow Yourself To Be A Beginner
Allowing yourself to be a beginner is as important as the other two. Everyone who runs was once a beginner. People don’t start running 10 miles or break speed records. The process will take time and there will be setbacks and injuries.
Regardless of what happens, do not get down on yourself. You can’t give up because there are others out there who are faster or thinner or stronger. Focus on what you can or will do, not on what you aren’t able to do.
Runners come in all types. Fast and slow runners, runners of every body type and of every age. There will always be people who have run their whole lives and will finish faster than you.
But you are not competing with them, you are competing with yourself. You are competing against your best time or your body. Allow yourself to be slow, to struggle, to hurt. It’s part of the process of being a runner.
There are many apps available for runners, both new and experienced.
One tool I used to start my running journey was C25K (Couch to 5k). This app takes you from your non-active lifestyle to running a 5k (3.1 miles) in 9 weeks. The program slowly builds up your stamina and legs through a run-walk system. At the end of the program, you can (hopefully) run a 5k. It is perfect for new runners.
Another app I use regularly is the Nike+ Run Club app. This app tracks your runs via distance, pace, mile splits and keeps a total of all runs completed. There is also a personalized coaching feature that can help you train for the most common distance races including a 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon. It also has a social aspect where you can invite your friends to compare runs and help motivate you. I use this app to keep track of my runs along with Garmin Connect and my Garmin Forerunner 235.
Similar to Nike+, Strava is also another popular choice.
After you establish a good running base, I recommend you sign up for a local race in your area. Not only will this give you a goal to shoot for, but they are also fun. The camaraderie of runners is like nothing I have ever experienced. Even though I am an introvert (sometimes on the extreme side) and am not a big fan of crowds, the experience of every race I’ve competed in was fantastic.
If you can find a friend to run the race with you, even better. If not, there are plenty of friendly people who are also new runners, have been in the same situation as you, and will urge you to do your best. All you have to do is start!
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