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What are the Health Benefits of Running?

Article by Anne Elliott

HIT THE FLOOR RUNNING! I am often asked about running. It is quite a contentious area for many people. I have found people either love it or hate it and that tends to be their criteria for taking part. I would like to examine it in slightly more detail to see what it can offer to us all.

Disadvantages and negative beliefs about running

It physically hurts many people whilst attempting it.
It’s impossible to run for more than a few seconds for many people.
It has bad associations with school sports and other failed attempts at getting fit.
You need to be pin thin to do long distance.
It gives you knee and ankle injuries

Advantages of running

It’s so cheap!
It can be tackled progressively
There is a right and wrong way to do it
It’s a super effective way to loose fat mass
It pumps a lot of oxygen in to your body so you feel very energised when you finish.

On paper therefore it looks like a very good option. Yet most of us would ‘run a mile’ in the opposite direction. It is a great way to lose weight but if you’re very unfit and very overweight it will hurt both your lungs and your bulk as you try to lift all the excess weight off the floor. Remember it is a high impact activity, which means there is a point when you do not make contact with the ground albeit for a split second. You need to tackle it progressively. Start with something you can do. A good hearty walk, then a longer hearty walk, then a fast walk (called power walking) then you can add little bursts of jogging, then longer bursts of jogging till you’re doing more jogging than walking. Before you know it you’ll be a fully-fledged runner without even noticing the difference. If you get any pain in your hips, knees or ankles, take it back a step to a point that you don’t get pain and strengthen the muscles of the lower body ready to take a little more pressure.

Its so good for you. You are out in the fresh air; it will give you a chance to have a little ‘you’ time; space to mull over events in your life; listen to music or just the sounds of nature. All in the knowledge that every step you take is a step closer to health and fitness – literally. You will find that as you discover you can actually do it, all those negative associations will fade into history where they belong. Do it with a friend and build some new positive associations for the future.

However, things to remember about running

• Always wear appropriate clothes. Make sure you can move easily in lots of directions and wear enough to keep you warm. Exercise makes muscles warm up so they can perform more efficiently. What’s the point in only wearing a pair of thin shorts on a cold day, losing all the heat from the leg muscles. Its counter productive. Stay warm and keep your muscles warm. You’ll get to gauge this by trial and error.
• STAY SAFE. Safe from traffic – so if you are out when the light is drawing in, have reflectors on your arms or jacket so people can see you.
Safe from others:
With a friend. Two’s company and safer.
With a mobile phone that’s at fingers reach…just in case.
With an attack alarm. These are key fob sized with a button that sets of the loudest alarm you have ever heard. Keep them also at finger reach.
I don’t want to put you off, but be sensible and stay safe. Its better to be out in the fresh air than on a treadmill.
• FUN You’ll want to do it if its fun. So make it enjoyable for yourself.
• Nike.com have a site where you can log and monitor your improvements. Nothing like seeing your improvement in black and white to keep you going.
• Remember why you’re doing it. To lose some weight, get fit and health, feel energised and awake and enjoy that lovely meal at the end of it!

See you in the park!

Photo credit: Ambro


ANNE ELLIOTT is 52. She has a Personal Training Practice that specialises in working with middle-aged clients and their associated health problems. She lectures in Sports Science at Middlesex University, is an ABAE boxing referee, is registered with REPS at Level 4 and is undertaking a Doctorate in exercise in middle age. Anne appears regularly in the media talking about her specialisation - exercise in middle age.

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  1. Jo Carroll

    October 28, 2011

    I have rubbish knees. That’s my excuse – but I walk miles, so cover the ground that way. I might not puff so much (though I have been known to gasp up hills) but have time to take in whatever is around me, smell the roses, that sort of thing. So it’s better for my head – and my knees.

  2. Harriet Angell

    December 31, 2011

    Running changed my life – I am 54 and started running 8 years ago – I have run 4 marathons and many halfs etc, lots more planned for this year and running my first Ultra in Feb. At 50 I then trained as a REPS level 3 Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor focussing on the over 40’s age group and I have just started a full-time degree at Brunel University in Sports Science with the plan to explore endurance challenges and the ageing process or something along those lines! Early days yet…so very interested in your doctrate Anne. Life can really be great in one’s fifties (apart from hot flushes and insomnia, but that passes…I hope!) I feel as if I am living my life backwards right now and it’s fab! And the reason for me posting all the above is really just to say running can change your life on so many levels, so give it a go, I had no idea when I started running I would be doing what I’m doing now – it was running that got me here.

  3. Angela

    May 25, 2012

    I began running two years ago using the NHS couch to 5 K podcasts, they are fab and took me from all the bad associations with school running that you mentioned to now being 50, two and a half stones lighter and something that I use to have some creative thinking and problem solving time. I’ll never enjoy it enough to cover a half marathon but it has become part of my routine and I enjoy the distance that I cover. Starting out thought I’d be embarrassed but friends were so encouraging. The scary stuff about being aware of attackers, just pick a route that is well populated with homes, I much prefer nosing in people’s gardens to jogging round the park anyway. Great post and hope more women consider it.

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