How do I get from the couch to 5 km?

A running guide for beginners

If you’re contemplating taking up running as a health and fitness activity, you may find the hardest thing is taking those important first steps. But, there are so many reasons why getting off the couch and into your runners is a great thing to do. The first reason is simple… it’s amazing for your health! The benefits of regular exercise are many and varied but, at the most basic level we’re talking about cardiac fitness, weight management and improving your mental health.

Research shows that running as little as 30 minutes, three times a week, will help you manage your weight, improve your cardiovascular fitness and help you feel much better in and about yourself.

Why cardiovascular fitness matters so much

Have you ever wanted to go on a hike with friends or fancied the idea of joining a footy team but held back because of your level of fitness? Like the idea of a cycling holiday through Asia or Europe but not sure you’d make the distance? The truth is starting a graded, progressive exercise program, like running, could transform your life. And it can happen fairly quickly too. A few weeks of regular running, a few days a week, will see your fitness and endurance levels dramatically improve. The combination of less weight, stronger muscles and a fitter heart and lungs, will allow you to do things you might never have thought you’d be able to.

One of the most awesome things about running is that all you have to do, is step outside and the world becomes your gym. No contracts, no fees, no timetables. Running is one of the fastest,  cheapest and easiest routes to a healthier, happier life.

Oh… and did we mention that your cardiovascular fitness is the single biggest predictor of longevity?? But it’s not just a predictor of your lifespan – it’s also a very strong predictor of your health-span, or the number of years you can expect to live a healthy, fully functional and active life.

Fit young woman stretching her leg before a run

So you’ve made the decision to start jogging – What do you do now?

If you haven’t been active in some time, a visit to your doctor or health professional for a check-up is vital before embarking on a new exercise program. Then all you have to do is pull on your jogging kit and leave the house. It doesn’t matter whether you walk, jog or do a combination of the two. The important thing is that you commit to getting out and getting moving on a regular basis; three times a week for about 30 minutes is a good starting point.

If you’ve had health challenges and that sounds beyond you – don’t worry, just start with what you can manage. The truth is any amount is better than none!

There are a number of good programs on the web that will give you graded, comprehensive training plans to match your aspirations. Remember to take it easy in those first 10 or 12 sessions. The first goal should always be to build consistency, everything else comes second to that.  And remember, exercise is not just good for you, it should feel good too.

Our top tips for getting into running

Don’t worry if it’s hard at first

Everyone struggles with motivation sometimes, even the pros. And everyone finds running hard at some point – it’s perfectly normal to find it daunting when you first start, or when you’re getting back into the swing of things after an extended break.

Running often has a steep learning curve – as much for your head as for your muscles, both need time to adapt to the running lifestyle. So don’t stop after your first, second, or even third run: they are literally the hardest you will ever do… it does get easier the more you do it! And any time you push your body to do something new, you are probably going to feel it the next day. DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – is perfectly normal, and nothing to worry about. It does pass. But if you have something that hurts for more than a couple of runs, speak to your health professional.

Planning helps

Following a realistic plan will help you improve faster than simply winging it. Realistic planning means not pushing yourself too far, too fast, too soon. If you are an experienced runner, there are many books and online resources written by health professionals to help you step up your game.

Everyone can run

Yes, that even means you! Whatever your age, size or health status. Once you start running you will be surprised at how quickly you improve. You’ll get fitter, faster and healthier.

Make running social

The idea of talking while running might seem impossible, even daunting. But exercising with a friend can make a hike seem like a social outing, even if you save all the actual talking for afterwards over a coffee. And surrounding yourself with people who love running, and are positive about it, is contagious.

Get the right equipment

For most people, any old running shoe will do. But, if you have any lower limb pain or injury that need to be taken into account, speak to your health professional for advice on which runners are best for you. Getting weather appropriate, comfortable and breathable clothing will also help.

You do not need to buy a bunch of gadgets to run. GPS trackers, FitBits and the like can be fun and can help you maintain motivation but they are by no means essential. The beauty of running is that it does not require you to break your budget!

Picking up the pace

Remember running is running no matter how slow or short the distance. There’s nothing wrong with slow-ish plod around the block a couple of times a week.

Contrary to most of society’s messages around running, it doesn’t have to be a competitive sport, either against other people or your own previous efforts. But if you do want to get quicker, then it’s often helpful to do a mixture of faster and slower work.

One way to do this is by making one day a week an easy-paced long run – perhaps increasing the distance by a small distance every week or two (<10%). The simplest way to pick up the pace in your other runs is with a simple interval training approach. Start by warming up well, then run hard (80-90% max effort) for two minutes and walk or jog for a minute to recover. Repeat this half a dozen times or so, then cool down. Of course you can vary the number of reps, and their duration, but the basic principle is that you are teaching your body to work at a higher intensity for short periods and to recover more quickly in between.

Other exercises are important

Whole body strength and conditioning work is hugely important for runners, both in injury prevention and in improving your running form. Talking to your health professional about the most effective exercises for you would be a great start but there are a heap of online body weight workouts available also. These are largely free or low cost, can be done in the lounge room, the park or the gym and require no specialised equipment at all.  Five minutes a day doing targeted exercises can make a huge difference to your form, your pace and your endurance.

Fueling your body

Generally, your body digests simple carbohydrates (toast, porridge, cereal) faster than protein, so a banana and a bagel with nut butter a couple of hours before, or soon after a workout is sufficient. Eating fairly soon after the run will help fuel your recovery and that’s when your body does all of it’s most important work!

For long runs, your body generally has enough carbohydrates stored to fuel you for around 90 minutes. Running ‘fasted’ (before breakfast) can also be a good way of training your body to use its fat stores more efficiently but this is usually only suitable for shorter runs.

Age is no barrier

If you’re able to walk and live independently you’re not too old to run… And, you might just live longer if you start running. Your endurance tends to peak later in life than power, so you can take up running later than many other sports and still get faster. Plenty of people set personal bests at all distances into their 40s, 50s and even older!

Improving your overall health

Being unfit and/or overweight puts you at risk from a number of chronic diseases including type 2 Diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, liver disease and depression.  It’s also worth noting that regular exercise is a very effective pain management strategy that decreases reliance on medications to manage pain and inflammation.

Need some help to start your running journey? Make a time to see Marissa, our Exercise Physiologist.

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