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Running: who can do it and why?

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What is motivating so many people to take up running? Aside from the fact that this activity is easily accessible and that exercising is beneficial to your health, why are they choosing to run?

For a long time, it was said that running could cause damage to your knees and was too hard on the body. But the truth is far from that. Indeed, scientific studies show that the benefits of running are amazing; for example, it can reduce your chances of developing all sorts of illnesses, including osteoporosis and even cancer. Basically, running could make you live longer!

The latest research data is quite clear on this issue. Running does not cause damage to your bones; in fact, it’s good for them. The body needs repetitive mechanical stress to become strong. Repeated impact on the ground not only prevents osteoporosis, but also reinforces cartilage and can even prevent osteoarthritis. In other words, running is good for your knees! However, it is essential to start running very gradually. The body will adapt as long as mechanical stress applied to the skeleton is not greater than the bodily tissues’ ability to adapt.

When running, progression is the key factor for avoiding injury. The muscle structures that are involved in running are rather slow to adapt because of these tissues’ low vascularization (ex: tendons, cartilage). You must therefore allow your body to take its time to adapt to this repetitive impact. It needs plenty of time to get stronger… but how do you go about doing things gradually?

Before running, you must first be able to walk for 30 minutes and do so often (four times a week is ideal). If you wish to start a running routine, you can follow this method:

Start by integrating three repetitions of one-minute runs to your 30-minute walk. 
Add one running repetition each time you go for a walk. 
Then, alternate up to 15 one-minute runs and one-minute walks. Later, add two minutes of continuous running, and do three repetitions of two-minute runs and one-minute walks.

Add one more repetition each time you go for a walk/run until your 30 minutes consist of two-minute runs and one-minute walks. 
Repeat this same method with three minutes, four minutes, nine minutes and 14 minutes of running.

Always add one repetition at a time. By progressing this way, you’ll see that within 12 weeks, you’ll be able to run for 30 consecutive minutes!

  • You can check out the following program (in French only): http://lacliniqueducoureur.com/media/pdf/programme-fractionne-i.pdf
  • Later, if you want to do more or if you already are a runner, note that it is highly recommended to increase your running time by a maximum of 10% per week. Otherwise, you will be at greater risk of injury.
  • Remember to listen to your symptoms. If you start to feel pain, don’t stop running; simply go back one or two steps in your progression. Every runner is unique and adapts at his or her own pace.
  • Don’t forget that you once had to learn how to walk; now, you have to learn how to run! Here are two simple pieces of advice to remember and apply for proper technique: take small steps and try to be as light on your feet as you can.

To do so, force yourself, as soon as you start, to adopt a rhythm of about three steps per second (180 steps/minute) and try to make as little sound as possible on the ground. You can also imagine yourself running barefoot on a very hard surface. These handy tips will contribute to reducing your impact on the ground and, by the same token, the mechanical stress that is caused to your joints.

Now, what type of shoes should you wear? Well, humans are made to run; we have everything we need to run, from head to toe! But it is important, especially if you have just taken up running, to have a shoe that allows as much ground sensation as possible. It should minimize the interface between foot and ground, and be the least reinforced possible. This applies to most runners. Overprotecting the foot leads to long-term weakening; having a shoe that is too supportive is like having a lumbar belt to protect your back as soon as you do an activity. In this situation, it is obvious that you will weaken your back muscles.

The same applies to your feet. Make them work so they can get stronger! Your knees and back will thank you for having stronger feet, and by exercising regularly, you will contribute to controlling or even preventing many potentially fatal diseases, such as high blood pressure and other heart problems. At the same time, running can help you control your medication. In short, go for a run!

Running is for everyone and is good for you. Your body will thank you and allow you to enjoy life at its fullest. Just make sure you start gradually, one minute at a time, and that you listen to your body. Run often (over three times a week), take small steps, stay light on your feet in simple shoes... and you’ve got the recipe for smart running!

A collaboration of Mr. Eric Boucher, physiotherapist and running specialist.

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