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National Runners’ Month

It seems like every month is devoted to one or more worthy causes. January is National Volunteer Blood Donor Month, as well as National Mentoring Month. October is National Crime Prevention Month and National Physical Therapy Month (hint, hint). May is a particularly busy month; it celebrates National Bike Month, National Mental Health Month, and National Runners’ Month. I’m going to discuss the latter.

Running is the 6th most popular sport in the US. Over 46,000 participants finished the New York Marathon, and the popularity of shorter races (such as 5k, 10k, and “mini marathon” distances) has exploded in recent years. To non-runners, this can be baffling. Why running? All that sweating and huffing and puffing, plus it looks painful! But ask any dedicated runner, and they’ll tell you – they run because they love it.

It’s not simple masochism. All exercise is good for us, but running in particular has many benefits:

Increased calorie burn – People burn an average of 100 calories per mile, regardless of whether they walk or run. The advantage of running is that you can burn more calories in a given amount of time. For example, say it takes you 20 minutes to walk a mile, but only 10 minutes to run the same distance. By running for 20 minutes instead of walking, you’ve burned 200 calories instead of only 100.
Improved cardiovascular health – Vigorous exercise, such as running, creates stronger lungs and heart muscles, making them more efficient and resulting in a lower resting heart rate. Running also preserves the elasticity of blood vessels, providing lower blood pressure.
Improved bone and muscle health – Bones and muscles respond to the stress of exercise by growing stronger. This becomes more important as we age and begin to lose muscle and bone mass as a natural result of that process. Individuals who run regularly maintain more bone and muscle mass and strength longer than people who live sedentary lifestyles.
Improved mental function – Running releases endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals), thereby reducing stress and improving memory and concentration. In fact, running is often used as a treatment for clinical depression and addiction. And as an added brain benefit, people who get enough exercise also sleep better.
Freedom to do what you want – Unlike most sports, recreational running has no real “rules.” Running is only as competitive as you want it to be. You can battle against others, against yourself, or against no one at all. You can race the clock or completely forget about time. You can join a group, take a friend or a dog, or go solo. You can explore city streets or nature trails. You can even catch up on your favorite TV shows from the comfort of your treadmill. It’s all up to you.

“How can I start doing this awesome thing?” I hear you ask. Good news, it’s easy! Once you’re cleared by your doctor to begin an exercise program, anyone can start running. Just follow these steps on three to four non-consecutive days a week for a safe start:

• Build up your fitness until you can walk for 30 minutes without stopping.
• Add short periods of running (20 seconds or so) every one to two minutes, changing from a walking program to a walk/run program.
• Gradually increase the time you run and decrease the time you walk until you are able to run for the full 30 minutes.
• Sign up for your first 5k or fun run! Run farther! Run faster! Set new goals and have fun!

You may have set backs and periods that seem difficult, but don’t quit. If possible, find a dedicated runner to mentor you through the tough spots. The end benefits (and that includes fun) are worth it. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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