Have you ever felt you shouldn’t run because you weren’t a natural at it? Even been discouraged by the people around you because “you run like a girl” and they thought it was ok to laugh at you? Possibly you felt short of breath, and you didn’t feel like your cardio was improving? Maybe you think you’re too old? Or you may have even started running but had a niggling injury that made you give up.
Every single one of those was once me. Let me tell you, I was wrong, you are wrong, and the naysayers are wrong! You can start running!
Running is an excellent form of exercise. Not only can you experience positive adaptations in your musculoskeletal system, body composition and cardiovascular system, but your mental aptitude, mental health, sleep and overall health can also improve. Running does it all.
One foot in front of the other.
Let’s first cover the mechanics. Running is our bodies’ most natural way of going faster. One foot in front of the other with a non-contact with the ground in between. A series of leaps.
Our whole body, arms, legs, muscles etc. have to work in unison to run. Everything between the feet and the head, even the torso is working. If you are interested in an in-depth explanation of how this all happens then keep an eye out for my next blog titled “What Distance Should I Run?”
However, all movement, not just that of running, is controlled by the brain through the musculoskeletal system. This is the complex network between the skeleton, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints and connective tissues. The pattern of any movement we make has been learned by the brain and delivered by the musculoskeletal system.
I’m not built for running.
We aren’t born with the ability to walk, that is something we learn to do through practice. Those first few steps we took as a baby were difficult and unnatural looking. Running is the same; if you want to be good at it, then you need to practice. Some people take more practice than others, but it is possible to master running. Just keep trying, and I promise you will get better at it and it will start to look and feel more natural.
This learning process is your brain perfecting the pattern of movement to relay to your musculoskeletal system. The first time you do something your mind needs to learn the process. How each muscle should work and in what order.
With practice, your brain learns to become more efficient.
You run like a girl!
Despite us being in an age where it is far more socially acceptable to encourage participation, there are still people that think it’s appropriate to put you down. I will talk about it time and time again- more often than not the people who talk you down see a fault in themselves that they are projecting on to you. Don’t listen to them.
I even had an ex tell me, insultingly, that I shouldn’t run because it looked unnatural. He sat atop his high-horse with a cigarette in one hand and bourbon and coke in the other. Did I run despite him, or to spite him, it’s so long ago I can’t quite remember!?
The point is, I did it anyway, and I got better at it. Significantly better at it. And you can too.
My butt moves like a lava lamp.
I remember feeling uncomfortable about how parts of my body wobbled when I ran. I could feel things jiggling and rubbing, and it made me move strangely to try and reduce the jiggle. As a result, I ran in the dark, and always on my own.
Later I was introduced to Toowoomba Parkrun. With time, I found that it is normal for humans to wobble when they run- even lean elite athletes can’t avoid it. The simple fact is that when a muscle is relaxed, it can jiggle and when it contracts to move your limbs it also jiggles. This jiggle happens regardless of the presence of body fat.
Nonetheless, through regular running, I have lost body fat. My body shape has adapted to be more effective, and I am more practised at running. My weight on the scales hasn’t changed much; however, I run more efficiently and faster, I have more muscle and less body fat, and I don’t notice the wobble anymore.
Start running to lose weight.
Running can be used for purely weight loss, or for fat loss while preserving (or in some cases increasing) muscle mass. You can choose different types of running to manipulate your body composition.
Fast-paced short distance running, in particular, requires full-body coordination and is a full-body workout. Because it focuses on acceleration, it can burn through calories fast. The muscles needed for this type of running are generally bulkier than distance runners.
Sprint intervals can be one of the most effective ways to strip body-fat without eating into muscle mass.
Long-distance running requires less acceleration than short distance running. With training your body can develop a running style which is economical, allowing for greater distances with less calorie burn. Distance runners generally have a leaner physique with lower muscle mass.
If you are a beginner, then I recommend just working your way up to completing 5km without stopping, then adjust from there.
Tomato face can’t win the race.
I used to be embarrassed about how red in the face I would get when I ran. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I suffered from exercise-induced asthma which also made me a heavy breather. I felt discouraged from participating in sport because it never seemed to improve. I was convinced that these were signs of poor fitness. They weren’t.
When I decided to take up running as a 29-year old, I consulted with a doctor and started taking an asthma reliever. Although my symptoms had never been strong enough to cause an asthma attack, they have been strong enough to restrict normal activity. The reliever was the perfect assistance to help me push through the restricted breathing to develop a better breathing technique when I exercise.
I can’t remember the last time I used my reliever. My cardiovascular system is much stronger, and I can travel much further on a single breath. This is an adaptation that can only be made by pushing yourself.
Flash forward 6 years and although running hasn’t been the only priority I’ve run countless kilometres in the dark around the streets and over 200km combined in races. My medium-long distance run rate is now well under 5min per km and dropping. I breathe slowly and deeply to control my asthma without medication, and I still get very red in the face because I have fair skin.
Start running to reduce the incidence of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
When you run your foot strikes the ground with more impact than walking. This sends the signal to your brain that you need to build stronger bones. In addition to the physical act of running and eating right, you need to get Vitamin D. During the warmer months in Australia, exposing just the face, arms and hands a few times a week for 10 – 15 minutes before 10am or after 3pm will give you sufficient Vitamin D without causing skin damage. During the colder months, you can adjust by increasing the time running or going during the middle of the day.
The evidence is clear, getting outside to run a few km’s is the perfect way to absorb your vitamin D and build stronger bones.
Studies are now debunking the myth about runners wearing out their knees. If you have a postural issue or an existing injury, then you can cause additional wear and tear or make it worse by running. However, the incidence of arthritis in the knees is much lower in older people who have a history of running. Additionally, a recent study into the health of young athletes has found that the knees become inflamed within just 30min of sitting and that the inflammation is reduced within 30min of running.
The truth is out there, running is far better for you than not being active at all.
Running from old age.
I remember how proud I was when I first started doing timed 5k runs at Toowoomba Parkrun. I had never measured my distance or times before so having something measurable was the perfect motivation. My run time was improving week after week and the added pressure of a recorded time made me push harder. I started noticing the same runners around me which helped me understand my pace during the run. There was one in particular who was easy to spot. Silver hair and a blue t-shirt. We would run around the same speed, then quite by surprise, he started running faster than me, and I just couldn’t catch him.
It turns out he was more than double my age (65) and had decided to run for his health with no history of being a runner. He told me he didn’t have any goals to be the fastest, not even in his age category. His goal wasn’t even to get faster.
He just wanted to be able to run.
He isn’t the oldest ParkRunner either. Week after week ParkRun Australia newsletter features impressive, inspiring people, from all over the country, all ages, some even in their 90’s, all backgrounds and ability levels. While they aren’t all runners, they get out there and complete 5km at their best pace.
You are never too old to strike the pavement with one foot in front of the other, even if that’s just at walking pace.
Did niggling injuries make you give up?
Sometimes we try something new or return to doing something that we were good at in our youth. Did you start running, and then stop because you got injured?
Despite being a qualified fitness professional, there was a time in my life when I didn’t know better. You don’t know what you don’t know! The journey I took with some niggling injuries played a huge role in pushing me towards being a Personal Trainer.
I was suffering from hip and knee pain when I ran. Around the same time, another runner friend was experiencing almost the same issues. You can read more about it in my blog “Why Does My Hip Hurt When I Run?”
The main takeaway is that we had both accumulated some postural issues over the years, and with some professional guidance we were both running again.
Start running to be smarter.
I know you are curious about what your brain to do with exercise. There are two significant links between your mental aptitude, mental health and physical activity. When you exercise regularly, you create an environment in your body where your brain has more fuel to access.
The brain consumes glucose. Regular exercise increases the body’s ability to deliver glucose to the brain but also increases the storage capacity of glucose.
Glucose is transported by the blood. As previously discussed, when we exercise we increase the body’s ability to circulate blood through the cardiovascular system. Insulin is the hormone that controls how much glucose is present in the blood, and how much is stored within muscle tissues. During exercise, muscles will use the stored glucose (glycogen) as energy. This storage will be replenished by the blood. With regular physical activity, the body produces more insulin to help the blood glucose transfer from the bloodstream and into the muscles to sustain energy. Additionally, regular exercise increases the glycogen storage capacity within the tissues.
Running produces a better functioning glucose delivery system, and more stored glucose within the body. It makes sense that with more glucose that is easily available that the brain can sustain longer periods of deep thinking.
If you were to start running today, you’d be happier.
Running can have a profound impact on mental health by releasing good endorphins and promoting good sleep. Sleep problems are often associated with stress. Side effects of stress can include trouble falling asleep and restless sleep.
Exercise can significantly reduce stress levels. Just five minutes of running can reduce stress and anxiety by triggering anti-anxiety responses in the body. Including some gentle stretching with your running routine and you have potent cortisol reducing combination.
Getting active can increase the time spent sleeping, and in particular, the time spent in deep sleep. Tissues in the body repair, immune function improves, blood pressure lowers, and hormones are regulated, including those responsible for controlling mood and healthy weight management, during deep sleep.
If you would like more information on this topic, The Sleep Doctor has an enlightening article on the link between exercise and sleep. Additionally, you can see my more in-depth discussion on exercise and the brain.
What are you waiting for? Start running today!
Surely after reading this article, you are in the process of tying your shoelaces, ready to strike the pavement and start running. Besides all of the fantastic health benefits, running is your birthright, don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise. Never underestimate yourself and always stay true to your goals. Even if you are experiencing physical limitations, many different professionals can help you to get more active.
If you have a running story, then I would love for you to share with me in the comments below.