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Fitness Basics: Running for Your Life

Experts offer advice to get you started.
(continued)

Start Gradually

Before you start any new fitness program, it's wise to consult with your physician -- especially if you're a man 45 or older or a woman 50 or older, the experts say.

"I always want anyone who's getting started to know their life digits -- blood pressure, BMI (body mass index), cholesterol, blood sugar," says Isphording.

Running is not the best exercise for everyone, Dolgener says. So listen to your doctor and your body.

"The worst thing you can do is start running, get injured, then stop exercising altogether," says Dolgener.

Once you get a green flag from the doctor, don those new running shoes and start out with a combination of walking and jogging. For example, you might alternate walking for five minutes and jogging for two minutes.

Over time, steadily increase the amount of time you spend running until you're able to jog for 20 minutes at a time, suggests Isphording. Once you achieve that, start increasing your distance.

For someone who has been sedentary, Dolgener recommends starting only with walking, then progressing to brisk walking before adding any jogging.

"Progression is the key element for someone who hasn't done this," says Dolgener.

Your cardiovascular system will adapt more easily than your musculoskeletal system, says Dolgener. People don't usually give up running because their hearts can't adapt but because of injury. Gradually conditioning yourself with a combination of walking and running gives your body time to adapt to the new stress on the joints and muscles.

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"When I first started," recalls Scott, "Julie said, 'Do you think you can run for 15 minutes?' I said, 'Are you kidding me?'

"I ran about 45 seconds. I was amazed at how little I could do." But he plugged through it.

"The first two weeks are difficult," Isphording warns. "Getting out the door is the hardest thing ever. Once you get past that, then you get it, your body starts feeling good and wants to go out and play."

To keep your body feeling good during your runs, our experts offer these tips:

  • While you're running, be sure you can pass the "talk test": You should still be able to carry on a conversation. Keep your pace comfortable so you won't burn out too quickly. "It's much better to run too slow than too fast," Isphording says.
  • Instead of tracking the miles you run, count time. "Don't get caught up in measuring distance, and that you ran faster than yesterday. Go for time," Isphording says.
  • As you build up past 20 minutes, be sure to stay hydrated. This is especially important during the warm-weather months. "Know where the water is, where the park is, where the gas station is -- or you can stash water along your route ahead of time," Isphording says.
  • In addition to running, do strength training to build muscle and bone density and protect against injury. A 20-minute strength workout a couple of times a week is all you need. To get started, get a personal trainer to write out a program you can do at home -- or get a video.
  • Save stretching for after your run, when your muscles are warm. Stretching cold muscles increases the risk for injury.
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