You’re more likely to hurt yourself if you haven’t been very active lately, so take it slow, even if you feel great. If you’re over 50 and haven’t done regular exercise in a while, or you have a long-term condition like diabetes or heart disease, talk with your doctor before you start to run.
Test Your Fitness Level
You may have some idea of how fit you are, but it’s good to have numbers to compare as you go. Take your pulse right before and after you walk a mile. Do the same for a 1.5-mile run (if you feel fit enough), and time it. About 6 weeks in to your running routine, check those numbers again -- they can tell you something about how far you’ve come.
Set a Goal
It’s hard to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Do you want to finish a 5K race? Lose weight? Improve your health? Decide what you want to do so you can make the right plan to help get you there. And remember to measure your distance, weight, blood pressure -- whatever’s linked to your goal -- so you can track your progress. It'll help keep you motivated.
Plan It Out
Whatever your goal, a good plan will help you get there safely. It should tell you where to start, how quickly to add to your mileage, when to rest, and how to keep from getting hurt -- and it should do this on a day-by-day basis. Find a training schedule that works for you, or check with your doctor or a licensed exercise professional if you’re not sure where to start.
If you need to work your way up, you can start by walking and begin to run gradually, as you feel comfortable. A good goal is to get at least 150 minutes a week of “moderate aerobic activity,” like walking, or 75 minutes of “vigorous aerobic activity,” like running. Spread those minutes out over the course of a week.
This eases you into your run and may help prevent injury and keep your muscles from being sore. If you’re going for a fast walk, walk slowly for 5 to 10 minutes first. If you’re going for a run, start with a brisk walk or slow jog.
Listen to Your Body
If you get dizzy, feel sick, or can’t catch your breath, stop -- you’re probably overdoing it. Be flexible with your schedule as you get started. Take a couple of days off to get your strength back if you need to.
This lets your heart rate and blood pressure ease back into their normal ranges after your run. You do it the same way you warmed up: Slow down and go for another 5 to 10 minutes.
When you run, your muscles get tighter. These exercises can help keep your joints loose and get more blood to those areas. Stretch major muscles after your run, not before: Be gentle, breathe freely, and try to hold each one around 30 seconds. A running guide or exercise professional can help with the right moves for you.
It’s natural to kick off your new hobby with enthusiasm, but don’t overdo it. In addition to starting slow, you also need to make sure you give your body a break. That can keep you from getting injured and burning out. In fact, “rest days” can be as important as “run days” for your health and for boosting your speed and distance. They give your body a chance to recover and get stronger.
Make It a Habit
Habits can be hard to shake. Some happen when you’re not thinking about them -- if you mindlessly pick up a doughnut with your morning coffee, for example. But you can create them too. First you need a cue -- an alarm on your phone, maybe -- that tells your brain you’re about to run. Then you follow it instantly with a reward, like a cup of coffee or a TV show. After a few weeks, your daily run may become a hard habit to break.
Make It Social
You’re less likely to cancel your workout if you make plans to meet a buddy or a group. It’s more fun, too -- as you get used to the pace, you should be able to chat easily. A little friendly competition with people at your level also can help you stick to your new routine.
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Charlesduhigg.com: “The Power of Habit,” “How Habits Work.”
Harvard Business Review: “Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job.”
Jeff Galloway Training: “Run Walk Run.”
LiveScience: “How to Start an Exercise Routine and Stick to It,” “30 Minutes of Exercise May Be As Good As 1 Hour.”
Mayo Clinic: “Stretching and flexibility,” “Aerobic exercise: How to warm up and cool down,” “5K run: 7-week training schedule for beginners,” “Fitness program: 5 steps to get started.”