ST.LOUIS - You've likely noticed friends, family and coworkers joining running groups, using Facebook apps to share their training times, participating in 5Ks for charity and training for marathons. If you feel motivated to lace up your sneakers, take some advice from assistant professor of physical therapy at Saint Louis University, Chris Sebelski, to hit the ground running and have realistic expectations about the work ahead.
|Assistant professor of physical therapy Chris Sebelski in the classroom|
Sebelski encourages those who want to join the sport's growing numbers, saying "Running is very accepting of beginners. It's a great way to stay active at all ages, and it's a healthy choice for those who have set a New Year's resolution to get in shape.
"Running really has become the everyman and everywoman sport. It's also something that more and more people do in their later years. We used to believe it would ruin your joints. There have been several studies in recent years about running, aging and arthritis that have disproved this idea."
However, while getting in shape is a terrific aim, there can be rocky terrain between your good intentions and the finish line without thorough preparation and a realistic plan.
If you're ready to join the race, consider these words of wisdom from Sebelski, an avid runner herself:
Overall Body Checkup
Before you begin, visit your primary care doctor for a complete overall body check-up, Sebelski says, and talk about your exercise plans. Depending on your goals and current state of fitness, you may also consult a physical therapist or nutritionist so that they can help you create a holistic plan.
"Remember, it's so much better to prevent injuries than to try to recover from them," Sebelski says.
It's easy to go overboard during the enthusiasm of planning, but be sure you accurately acknowledge your current level of fitness. If you haven't been exercising at all, you'll want to start with a walking/jogging mix, Sebelski says. Some people feel very tired for the first few weeks after they begin to exercise, so set a reasonable goal that you'll be able to stick with as your body gets used to the new activity. You might consider journaling to keep track of your progress and how you feel.
"Make your goals personal," Sebelski says. "On an everyday level, the key is to think about small steps and celebrate the little victories."
When it comes to setbacks, it's not if, but when, Sebelski says. "Running doesn't happen in a vacuum. Everyday things are going on. You're fighting off a cold. Your children needed extra help with their homework. You may have an injury. Expect that there will be off days when you can't fit in a workout or your time isn't your best."
By anticipating the obstacles to your training, you'll be able to adjust your workout rather than throw it out the window entirely. And, when it comes to exercising, your efforts are cumulative.
"On a day when you realize you're not going to be able to complete your normal routine, evaluate the situation and set a good goal for that day," Sebelski says. "Always do something. Eight minutes is better than nothing.
"It's never all or nothing. Go for a walk, take the stairs, do squats or do something else that elevates your heart rate. You'll keep yourself from losing ground and you won't have the emotional setback of feeling like you gave up."
Hear more from Sebelski about how to plan for setbacks:
Food and Water
When you start burning more calories, you may find yourself very hungry. But, proceed with caution. You can't simply consume unlimited calories, even if you are burning more during your workouts. Look at what you're eating and be smarter about what types of calories by including plenty of lean proteins and whole grains. And, don't forget about hydration, Sebelski says. "Remember: Water. Water.Water."
Including other forms of exercise in your training regimen will help you reach your running goals. Yoga, for example, offers stretches that will help to change and improve posture and the alignment of the body. Exercises like Pilates can build core strength, which in turn, will help you breathe as you run.
"There's a big link between core strength and breathing," Sebelski says. "Core strength assists with posture which in turn will make breathing easier.
"Running itself is an all-over body sport. People think it's concentrated in the legs, but that's not true. It affects your arms, back, trunk, and almost every muscle in your body. Cross-training is helpful because you'll strengthen these other muscles and avoid the injury risk posed by the repetitive motion of running every day.
Staying on Track
Running is hard work, and after the first month or two of diligent training, you may find your enthusiasm waning if you don't plan for ways to stay engaged. Consider joining friends in the park or a running group to train for a 5K. The social aspect can help keep you on track.
Technology offers helpful ways to stay engaged, as well. Share your training time with friends on Facebook, and you'll be amazed by the support you receive. There are apps that make it easy to report back to your support group regularly. Or, tell your social circle about your training sessions on your blog so that they can follow your story and cheer you on.
Finally, a reality check shouldn't dampen your enthusiasm. Though training can be tough, the obstacles are no reason to be daunted. The rewards from running are well worth the effort, and knowing what the terrain looks like makes it more likely you'll reach your goal.
Long a leader in educating health professionals, Saint Louis University offered its first degree in an allied health profession in 1929. Today the Doisy College of Health Sciences offers degrees in physical therapy, clinical laboratory science, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics and information management, medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, occupational science and occupational therapy, and physician assistant education. The college's unique curriculum prepares students to work with health professionals from all disciplines to ensure the best possible patient care.