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Running is one of the most popular cardio exercises that help strengthen the heart and bones while also stimulating metabolism and burning calories.
You don’t need any fancy gym equipment or the guidance of a trainer to perform this type of exercise. Just a pair of comfortable running shoes would do.
You can go to the park for a sprint, work out in your driveway, or hop onto a treadmill within the confines of your home. However, bear in mind that too much of a good thing can be bad. Running can also lead to muscle loss if done without a proper diet and strength training regimen.
You must plan your exercise routine, keeping in mind your specific fitness goals.
The Best Time of Day for Running
Although there is some compelling research regarding running performance being more beneficial in the early evening (Hill, 2013), (1) deciding the ideal time for running should take into account the following factors:
- How does running fit into your work and personal life?
- Are you an early riser or more of a later riser from sleep?
- What is your typical pattern of eating during the day as it relates to the energy needed for your run?
For example, if you feel energized and most alert in the morning, then an early morning run might be a good option for you. However, if you thrive in being active later in the day, then running at that time will make sense.
Health Benefits of Running
A regular running program has numerous health benefits. In terms of cardiovascular benefits, consistent running where you gradually increase the time, distance, and speed cause increases in stroke volume, cardiac output, blood volume, capillary density, and more. (2)
Psychologically, like any consistent form of exercise, running creates increased mental acuity and alertness and decreases feelings of depressions and anxiety.
A regular running routine can also improve your health in the following ways:
- Helps burn calories and lose weight
- Makes you sleep better
- Improves joint flexibility
- Keeps bones healthy and strong
- Lowers the risk of cancer and diabetes
- Relieves stress
- Enhances skin health and appearance
Running for Weight Loss
Running can contribute to the goal of weight loss, but it should not be your main mode of losing weight. Exercise, in general, is not a very efficient vehicle for weight loss.
While running is a powerful form of exercise, the amount that you would need to do to make it your main contribution to weight loss is contraindicated for most people.
A sustainable and smart nutritional approach will be a very large pillar for weight loss, along with proper stress management by fostering positive personal relationships, reducing workload, and getting enough quality sleep every day. (3)
Running and any form of quality exercise progressions should be considered a part of the whole weight loss plan, rather than being the main or sole component of your weight loss plan.
Prepare for Your Running Routine
These are a few points that you have to consider when starting a running program.
1. Reason for running
The first thing you need to do before incorporating running into your routine is to reflect and understand why you want to take up this exercise in the first place.
- Do you want to run because the activity has little to no cost?
- Is running something you believe will be your main contribution to your weight loss plan?
- Or are you using running as a way to run away from a deep psychosocial issue you are being confronted with?
If you do want to begin a running program after thinking and evaluating your reasons for doing it, then developing a routine is certainly important.
2. Customizing your training program
I always recommend that people consult a qualified fitness professional to come up with a customized running routine that takes into account your individual health, goals, and other relevant factors, even if it’s only for the short term.
Much of what you will find on the Internet is non-customized training plans that you can download. These types of standardized running plans don’t account for your specific biology and your response to training.
The idea is that you will be routinely making adjustments as you monitor and gauge the effectiveness and response to it.
Another important consideration before you embark on your running program is to choose the perfect shoes for this exercise. You should invest in a few different types of shoes to see what works best for you.
Recent research (2015) indicated that rotating between different running shoes daily decreases the risk of injury. (4)
4. Training response
Other than that, I advise beginning runners to not become too dependent on digital track and monitoring technology to be your main guide for analyzing how you feel about your running program.
Lengthy research has been done on the effectiveness of objective readings (heart rate, oxygen consumption, etc.) vs. subjective measures (mood, perceived stress) in relation to training response.
A meta-analysis of 56 studies found subjective measures to be superior to objective measures in determining accurate training response (Saw, Main, and Gastin, 2015). (5)
A digital tracking device is not a bad thing at all, but focus on learning how to listen to your body as your main source of understanding your response to running while using the tracking device as a secondary aid.
How Many Minutes Should a Person Run in a Week?
There is no set standard for how many minutes a person should run per week. How many minutes a person should run varies based on their experience with running and their response to running in terms of recovery and adaptation to that stimulus.
For new runners, I suggest going from walking to running. Start with a few minutes and see how it goes. Listen to your body and gauge your response to running. After adapting to the new stress of running, focus on adding more time in increments of 30 seconds to a minute.
This slow and steady progression will allow you to gradually increase your cardiovascular endurance while also being able to monitor the effects of running on your body.
Major Drawbacks of Running
Running as a form of exercise has been both lauded and criticized.
However, when you look deeper into quality long-term research, results heavily indicated that regularly running has no real drawbacks, with the exception of providing too much of a dose for an individual.
Much like doing anything with a consistent stimulus, you certainly see negative or diminishing gains if the amount is not dosed properly for you.
Still, one research (2014) indicated that running even for 50 minutes a week at low speed provides greatly reduced risks of death from all-cause mortality. This 15-year study of 55,000 adults is a powerful argument for the benefits of running as a recreational activity for increased health and fitness. (6)
Here are a few key guidelines to make the best of your running routine:
- When including running in your daily life, remember that it is like any other form of exercise in that you must continually be monitoring and evaluating how you feel and what your goals are.
- As you grow as a person both personally and professionally throughout your life, continue to check back in with yourself and make the necessary time to keep running a part of your life if you truly value it.
- Things change in life many times over the course of many months and years, so be cognizant of how exercise fits into those changes, and remember to keep it fresh and provide new challenges with it.