Whether you are a runner or a walker, seasoned or novice, there are a few things to keep in mind when starting out. The summer and fall seasons are a time when many of us want to start an exercise program. This time of year also offers lots of opportunities for local events or races. So if you have an exercise goal that you’re working toward, keep these things in mind:
- Make sure you have good-fitting sneakers. Walking or running shoes should be replaced every 200-500 miles or at a minimum every six months. Keep your run/walk shoes as just that—for your running and walking only. Don’t wear them around town or on weekends; this will allow you to use your shoes longer for your exercise.
- Warm up—Make sure that you warm up with some dynamic movement before you head out the door to exercise. Do some body weight squats, go up and down your stairs a few times, do some calf raises or some full leg swings front to back or side to side. You are only setting yourself up for injury if you go out on “cold” muscles.
- Run or walk—You should be getting in a minimum of three running or walking days per week. Ideally, these should be on non-consecutive days.
- Gradually increase your mileage or time on your feet—If you have not been running or walking regularly, you need to start out slowly. If you try to do too much too fast, you are putting yourself at risk for injury.
- Stretch—A static stretching program should be done after you run or walk. Your muscles have been working and are warm enough that now they can tolerate this without risk of injury. You should stretch your quads, hamstrings, calves and iliotibial bands (outer thighs). Stretches should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds x3 for each.
- Rest—If you decide to walk and/or run most days, make sure you take at least one day per week off completely. Total rest. No walk, no run. Resting is when the magic happens; it’s when your body repairs itself and gets stronger. It is as important as the training or exercise itself.
- Diet and hydration—These are key players in how you feel, perform and recover. You should be drinking at least 64oz of water daily or half your body weight in ounces, whichever is higher. Remember, too, that food is fuel. The body can only perform as well as the fuel you put into it. The more you hydrate and eat healthy food, the better you will feel before, during and after exercising.
- Have fun!—Make sure that you are doing what you enjoy. If you do sign up for a local event, it is considered a “race” but that doesn’t mean you have to actually race it. Many people sign up for an event just to have a goal to work toward. Their goal is to finish! It’s not about how fast you go or how long it takes. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other and achieving what you set out to do.
Rachel Pope DPT, CYT is a physical therapist and certified yoga teacher. She is an outdoor enthusiast and marathoner who moved to VT in 2015 with her supportive husband and teenage daughter.