Learn to Love Running

If only there were two or three more hours in a day, then I’d be able to reach the bottom of my to-do list. But between children, work and juggling the needs of an elderly mother, there never seems to be enough time. And like many women, exercise is the first thing that gets pushed aside when I’m stretched to the limit—even if it’s exactly what I need the most to help me handle all the stress.

But I have to be realistic. My free time is limited, making a quick and easy fitness routine an absolute must. I was already walking 45 minutes each day so the next logical step was to simply pick up the pace and get done faster. I would start running.

I used to jog for fun when I was a teenager but that was decades ago. I knew my body had changed a lot in that time and I didn’t want to risk any injuries by simply jumping right in again.

Physical Benefits
Since running would be more intense than my regular fitness activities, I checked with my doctor to make sure it was safe for me to proceed. Am I ever glad I went! Besides giving me the green light, I learned so much from him that I couldn’t wait to lace up my brand new shoes. After shaking my hand and congratulating me on my goal, here is what he told me.

  • Fights the aging process by preventing the muscle and bone loss that often comes with age.
  • Reduces the risk of stroke, colon cancer and breast cancer.
  • Is a preventative treatment for people at high risk for developing osteoporosis or diabetes.
  • Reduces the risk of heart attacks by strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and keeping the arteries elastic and healthy. (An inactive person’s heart beats 36,000 more times each day—a sign that the heart isn't efficient.)
  • Raises levels of HDL, the “healthy” cholesterol.
  • Reduces the risk of blood clots.
  • Improves lung capacity and encourages the use of the other 50% of your lungs that don’t typically get used during normal activities and breathing.
  • Boosts the immune system by creating a higher concentration of white blood cells (lymphocytes) that attack disease.
  • Burns an average of 100 calories for every mile jogged, making it an efficient way to lose weight.
  • Significantly reduces mortality risk.
Psychological Benefits
Besides the physical, running has profound psychological effects as well, most notably the intense exhilaration and euphoria that many runners experience. This natural high (known as the "runner's high") comes from the release of endorphins, which pour into your system after exertion as nature’s way of preventing pain.

But running can also be used as a drug-free way to help treat clinical depression and other psychological disorders. Some studies have shown that intense physical exercise works as well as psychotherapy and also relieves tension, fatigue and confusion. Running has also been proven to help prevent the depression that many people develop when recovering from serious illness.  (*Always check with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.) Other psychological benefits of running include:
  • Increased confidence as you reach for and achieve your distance goals.
  • Relieved stress and the ability to cope with problems more effectively.
  • A positive attitude and a general sense of happiness.
  • Boosted self-esteem related to positive changes in your body, such as weight loss.
Jogging can also be a great way to spend time with your friends and meet like-minded fitness lovers too. That woman you nod to every day as you pass on the street could become one of your closest friends. Look at what you have in common!

If you prefer to keep to yourself, running can be a way of actively meditating as you become one with your breathing. Problems and thoughts that might have been swirling around your mind disappear when you’re deep in the rhythm of your footsteps—you might even discover the perfect solution when you’re done with your workout.

It doesn’t matter where you live—running can be done almost anywhere and requires very little in the way of equipment except for proper shoes and comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing.

My Accomplishment
I have a tendency to start an activity full-force and then burn out quickly, so I had to be careful not to expect too much of myself as I began my jogging program. I didn’t want to lose my motivation in a few weeks, so I didn’t set impossible expectations that I could never realistically meet. What worked for me was having a basic goal—to jog for 15 minutes straight. I didn’t imagine myself ever trying the Boston Marathon. I just wanted to be able to get in shape and still have time for other things.

The first week I started by walking quickly for five minutes as a warm-up, then I jogged for one minute and switched back to walking for two minutes. I alternated between walking and jogging several times until I had completed about 20 minutes and ended with another five-minute walk to cool down.

The amount of time I spent jogging gradually increased over then next two and a half months until I could finally jog for 15 minutes straight. What an emotional rush I felt when I finally reached my goal! I had actually done what I had set out to do. And I did it again and again in the coming days.

I’d like to be able to say that jogging magically solved all of my problems but life still pulls me in a million different directions. No matter what happens though, I still have that wonderful feeling of accomplishment deep down inside—and nothing can take that away from me.