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Fitness

Running just once a week lowers your risk of early death - here's how to get started

Running is not only good for you, it is convenient and affordable - and it's as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

By Rachel Grunwell
If you're looking for a reason to get running, then this might inspire you – a new study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that people who run as little as once a week have a lower risk of early death compared with people who don't run at all.
Personal trainer Rachel Grunwell, who coaches runners, and is also a yoga teacher who specialises in working with athletes, talks about getting started and how to stay motivated.
There are so many things to love about running.
First up, it's a free activity and there is no need for an expensive gym membership, which can hurt your bank balance.
Who else has an unused gym membership and "sponsored" a gym in the past? Some people have goal regrets – I have gym fee regrets.
Running requires no expensive machines that isolate muscles and force you to whimper. Nope, there's none of that when you are on the run. There are no mirrors too, thank goodness!
There's no red-faced image to witness while sweat-soaked. Instead, we can make up our own reality regarding our possible athletic-like appearance.
That inner-voice can say, "Yes, I look like the girl in that activewear ad!"
Or am I the only one who will own up to the delusion that they hope they look better than they do?
All you have to do is own a pair of running shoes. Okay, a pair of cute shorts and a sweat-wicking tank top helps too – budget allowing.
Running gives you a chance to be in nature, which is good for your soul.
Running gets you out into the sunshine to get some vitamin D, which helps lift your mood. It will also get your endorphins flowing.
Endorphins are a chemical in your body that can boost happiness levels.
Running can be done anytime, or anywhere. There is no gym timetable to dictate where and when you do it.
You can do it before work or it's a great way to break up the day if you fit it into a lunch break. Running at the end of your work day can also be a great way to unwind.
Some people choose to run solo – either with music, or without it. While others prefer to run with friends to make it more fun and to help them stay on track.
This is also a great way to combine a catch-up with exercising too.
But hang on a minute, starting to run is not altogether fun. I'll explain how long it took me to finally get that runner's high.
Seven years ago, writer Rachel was an unfit mum who got puffed pushing her then toddler in a pram, and says, "My cheeks turned red and I found it tough. I wasn't good at running at all when I first began. I started with 20 minutes, twice weekly, doing a walk/jog/puff/repeat routine.
"Over time I felt stronger and could run a little more than I walked. Over time I could run further. It was a slow start, but it was a 'start'.
"After several weeks, being in motion was getting enjoyable. After several months of consistent training I ran my first 10km. After eight months, I aimed for 21km. Fast forward to today, and I'm a proud marathoner who digs running, finding it like a 'moving meditation'. I believe if I can a run, anyone can.
"I've since qualified as a personal trainer and teach others to run. I encourage beginner runners to show up to training and they'll progress. After time, they'll get better. After all, if you practise almost anything, you get better at it.
"Just remember it's only an elite few who are attempting to win a marathon or complete the event in a really quick time. The rest of the pack are like you and me. We run for the sake of our health and fitness and hopefully enjoyment too!"
It's easy to say we want to start running, particularly on New Year's Eve.
That's when a lot of people set resolutions to start. They're usually hoping to lose weight or to improve their health.
Wanting to start running is the easy part. It's sticking to the habit that can be tricky.
Enter Dr Katrina Phillips from the University of Auckland's School of Psychology.
Dr Phillips specialises in working out how to inspire people to get behaviour changes to stick, and tells why exercise is hard to stick at for beginners.
"It's because the reward that we are going for when we exercise is quite delayed," she says.
"It's not like you go for a run and get health benefits immediately. You have to get out there time and time again.
"People start with a hiss and a roar, but this quickly changes. It's because we can be doing lots of other things where there is an immediate reward – like staying at home and watching TV. We feel a reward for something like that immediately. That's why it's hard to make a behaviour change with exercise, it's because the reward is long, slow and delayed."
Dr Phillips refers to "self-management literature", which can help beginner runners.
To keep running, there are a couple of things that you can do. The first is to make it easier to start running, she says.
"A lot of people think at night that they will definitely go for a run in the morning. But when they wake up, they want to stay in bed. So, a trick at night is to put your running gear at the end of the bed. That will make it easier to get out running in the morning."
Another way to keep your running journey going is to set "mini goals" or targets, then introduce a rewards system for meeting these goals.
Choose a reward that inspires you. This will be an individual-based motivator.
"Tell yourself if you go for a run for two days, then you can do something that you really like," says Dr Phillips.
Another helpful tip is to start with small goals and make them manageable and achievable.
"Start by running to the end of the road, then run around the block. Next, try walk/running for 1km. Make small, gradual changes."
Another way to start a running journey is to tell a friend or partner your plan. They can hold you answerable, or even better they might join you. It is much harder to stop when people are asking you how you are going and being encouraging.
Dr Phillips has been putting on her running shoes too.
Having recently made a deal with her partner "which will hold me accountable", she says. Paying for a personal trainer can help too.
"For those who are not naturally into exercise, we can reach out to ask others to make us accountable and put in rewards for ourselves along the way. This is such a normal response!"
Getting support was the key for Auckland runner Ariki Fotheringhame, 33, a full-time mother of two.
She made a New Year's resolution in 2019 to start running after a long hiatus and signed up for the Rotorua Marathon's 21km event to give her a running goal.
"I hadn't run in years because I had children, but I found it was really hard to start," she admits.
"My whole body jiggled and I struggled to breathe. It was exhausting!"
Ariki found a 21km beginner runner training schedule on the Rotorua Marathon website, which she found very helpful.
"The programme started with about 10 minutes of running, three times a week. Then it went to 15 minutes," she says.
"It was really hard at that beginner stage, but the programme progressed me well. After a few months, I could run a bit easier."
Ariki began running to get fit and to lose some post-baby weight, managing to drop 5kg.
Determined to finish the event, she ran the half-marathon in under two hours, which she was proud of.
The determined mother says she wasn't going for a "run time", and says she enjoyed the challenge of being off-road and running through a forest.
After the event, she joined the gym because winter was on its way. She thought exercising in a warm environment would be a great way to keep up her fitness but ended up hardly using this membership.
"I preferred to get outdoors running – it has become my 50 minutes of time off. I run for enjoyment now. I do it for my mental health and wellbeing. I love it now."
The devoted mum says the key to her being able to train came down to having great support from her mother and husband.
"Their support was really important and made it easier to reach my goal. It was really key," she says.
There are many health benefits of running, no matter how fast or slow you go, says Andrew Kilding, a professor of sport and exercise physiology at the Sports Performance Research Institute of New Zealand.
He puts improvements to the function and structure of the heart at the top of the list of health benefits. He explains that as we age, our arteries can "stiffen".
Regular running gets the heart pumping and gives the arteries a work out. This keeps them pliable.
The increased blood flow associated with running also helps stop fatty deposits accumulating on the artery walls, which can narrow the arteries and result in high blood pressure at rest – not a good thing.
Exercise (and particularly running) also improves resting heart rate and increases aerobic fitness.
Professor Kilding says a high level of aerobic fitness has been shown to be one of the best-known indicators of an individual's long-term health.
In 2016 Duck-Chul Lee, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, found that even 5-10 minutes running per day at a slow speed is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from cardiovascular disease.
Regular running improves the body's ability to transport oxygen around the body, so we get more efficient at running, and other physical activities also start to feel easier.
Running – or habitual exercise – is associated with a greater quality of life and could also lengthen it too.
Then there's the improvement in bone and joint health. This is because running is a weight-bearing activity. The impact loads the bones and so they strengthen.
"This is especially important in later life. Running can be a strategy to maintain bone health," Professor Kilding says.
Being on the run also burns kilojoules, speeding up your metabolism, which is helpful for weight management.
"Your metabolic rate is increased for a few hours afterwards," he says, but he's quick to note that "you can't out-run a bad diet".
Once a competitive runner, Professor Kilding says he now enjoys the activity for the physical and mental health benefits.
"We tend to forget about the mental benefits of running. It reduces depression, anxiety and stress and can help with cognition, memory and sleep.
"I make sure I get out for a run a few times a week. For me it's just about getting some time and space on my own, switching off and importantly, getting time in nature."

How to start running from scratch

Start with two to three runs a week with recovery days in between, says Professor Kilding.
Depending on your starting fitness level, you may need to alternate between periods of walking and running but it won't be long before you reap the rewards of your body's ability to adapt and can run continuously.
"Gradual progression of volume and intensity is the key," he says.
"As you become more accustomed to running over several weeks, mix in some runs of higher intensity when you're ready, such as shorter bursts of faster running, followed by recovery periods (walking). This higher intensity will further challenge your heart, muscles and metabolism resulting in gains in fitness."
The professor recommends adding in some whole body strength exercises, a day or two a week, to improve performance and health, and reduce risk of injury.
New runners should not try to run too far or too hard too early on.
"As a beginner, you shouldn't get out there and try to run every day of the week. This puts the body under too much stress too soon and is likely to result in injury before the body has a chance to adapt," he explains.
Although there is no clear consensus from research, progress running volume each week by no more than 10 per cent to avoid injury – small progressions are best. This stresses the body, you get time to recover, then you stress it again, recover.
"It's like a staircase and you build up in strength," he says.
Your experience of running will be how you choose to focus on it.
If you tell yourself you can't run, then you probably won't. Instead, choose to believe in yourself.
Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. That's it.
Shift your focus to the beauty of being outdoors, the sights and sounds. Choose to let movement uplift your mind, body and soul.
You get to decide what the experience is like. You are in charge.
Paul MacKinnon, the run technique coach/owner of The Balanced Runner, Melbourne, offers advice.
  • Your training programme is a guide, not a law. If you feel tired, your body is in charge.
  • Are your arms moving in symmetry or close to? Running is a bilateral movement. If you haven't got symmetry then there's very little chance you're moving bilaterally.
  • Every run is not an opportunity to push yourself. Running is about consistency, not continuous exertion.
  • Sleep matters. If you don't give your body a chance to recover, you're not giving it a chance to adapt.

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