Avneet Jheeta, junior physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare
Wish exercising was easier? Feeling frustrated that you’re not as fast or fit as you’d like to be? Whether you’re new to jogging or a seasoned sprinter, finding your running mojo can be a struggle. No matter how energised you feel while pounding the pavement, or how satisfying the feeling afterwards, being motivated to leave the house can be a big ask.
From Couch-to-5ks to marathons, running has never been more popular, with more than two million people in the UK reported to run every week. If you’re keen to kickstart your running routine, we’ve pulled together everything you need to know.
The science: running boosts body and brain
The health benefits of running include improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, a decrease in body fat, improvement in lung capacity and increased flexibility.1
When you’re active, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin – the ‘feel-good’ chemicals, which are known to improve your mood. It’s a natural high that also reduces harmful changes in the brain caused by stress.2
Getting fit? You need the right kit
- Wearing fitness gear that looks as good as it is practical will incentivise you to get out there. Breathable and sweat wicking fabric will help you go the extra mile without feeling uncomfortable. If you’re running when it’s dark, wear clothes that help you stay visible2
- Invest in a good pair of trainers with a neutral sole. Did you know that running in a neutral shoe can be more beneficial than running in a shoe with the heel higher than the forefoot? A specialist running shop can advise on the best footwear for you. Consider the 10% rule – set a distance and wear your new running shoes for 10% of it. For the remainder of your training run, wear your old shoes. With every run you do, increase the distance you wear your new running shoes by 10% until you feel comfortable to wear them for the duration. This will allow time for your feet to become used to the shoes and support they provides, meaning you can run more efficiently3
- Women are strongly recommended to buy a decent sports bra – not only can exercise with poorly supported breasts trigger pain and sagging, it can also leave women feeling self-conscious 4
- Listening to music or podcasts can help you maintain momentum, and with specialist headphones available you can still hear the world around you
- Eat right. Enjoy a healthy, balanced diet packed with nutrients: proteins, such as lean meat, eggs and beans help build muscle and a strong immune system. Carbohydrates, like starches, sugar and wholegrains, give energy. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day offer vitamins and minerals to regulate body processes
- Snack sensibly. After a run, your blood sugar levels become depleted. To restore your energy levels, re-fuel your body with a high protein snack within 30 minutes post-run. Protein allows the restoration and repair of the damaged muscle fibres from the run and allow the muscles to recover effectively5
- Drink plenty of water – your performance will be significantly hampered if you are dehydrated. Dehydration thickens the blood, increasing your heart rate while lowering the amount of blood your heart can pump with one beat. Dehydration also makes it harder for fat to reach your muscles and convert to fuel. After your run, aim to drink 500ml of water within half an hour to re-hydrate
- Track your progress with a fitness tracker that records your personal bests and shows you new routes
Into the exercise
So, you’ve got the right gear. Now to get the most out of your training to raise your fitness levels and endurance.
Warm up to prevent injuries and ongoing aches. You could try marching on the spot or go up and down the stairs for two minutes.2
20-minute muscle mover
Busy schedule? Build up your stamina with this 20-minute blitz2:
- 0 – 6 minutes = brisk walk
- 6 – 9 minutes = light jog
- 9 – 11 minutes = power walk
- 11 – 14 minutes = medium jog
- 14 – 16 minutes = light walk
- 16 – 17 minutes = fast jog
- 17 – 20 minutes = brisk walk and slowly start to reduce the speed as you cool down
Aim to do this run three times a week for two weeks. In week three, reduce your walking by one minute and increase your jogging by one minute. In week four, aim to complete your route by running the whole distance. Thereafter, simply increase your distance.
Muscles involved in inhaling and exhaling lie in around the ribcage and neck. During heavy breathing, these accessory muscles raise the rib cage and move it outwards, creating more space for air to fill the lungs. So, training the abdominal muscles can improve the ability for these muscles to work more efficiently during heavy breathing.6 Adopt the right breathing pattern – in through the nose, out through the mouth – to train the abdominals and improve your running performance
Choose a time of day that’s right for you
Some people feel fresher exercising in the morning while, for others, exerting this much energy at a groggy time of day can lead to tiredness later. It’s important to find a time that works for you.
Mix it up
Alternate running locations, playlists, podcasts and exercise regimes to keep runs interesting. Why not invite a friend along? Having a conversation will test your stamina and allow you to practice; otherwise, a running buddy makes for great motivation.
Music can heavily influence performance. Matching the beat of the song you are listening to with your running pace can regulate your work output, making repetitive exercise (like running) more interesting – you may even experience bursts of energy. It’s also worth synchronising music with the intensity and duration of the run too.7
Sleep deprivation can be a real energy zapper. Create a relaxing wind-down routine, like running a bath or reading a book, so that your body isn’t too tired for a run the next day. Your body rebuilds muscle when you’re asleep, so give it sufficient time for proper recovery.
Before starting a new exercise programme, consult a medical professional for more advice on volume and intensity of exercise. From here, set yourself a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).8 Whether it’s a personal best or an event like Couch to 5k, be kind to yourself with manageable goals that help increase your endurance and overall fitness.
3. Starrett, K., & Murphy, T. J. (2014). Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally. Victory Belt Publishing
6. VanPutte, C. L., & Seeley, R. R. (2014). Seeley’s anatomy & physiology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
7. Karageorghis, C. I., Terry, P. C., & Dickenson, P. (2011). Inside sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics