Baby steps on path to fitness

If you decide to take up running, don't make a radical change to your exercise regime.

If you decide to take up running, don't make a radical change to your exercise regime.

If you decide to take up running, don't make a radical change to your exercise regime.

If you decide to take up running, don't make a radical change to your exercise regime.

With obesity and stress levels in the Illawarra above the national average, many residents are turning to running to get back on track.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local has found that the Illawarra region suffers from above-average rates of chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension and anxiety disorders.

The best way to tackle these issues is through exercise, and of course the cheapest and most convenient form of exercise is running.

However, Phil Parle from the Illawarra Sports Medicine Clinic warns that just slapping on a pair of joggers, and hitting the pavement without proper preparation may cause more harm than good.

"Eighty per cent of running injuries are due to an overload of body tissues," he says.

Parle recommends starting off slowly so as not to put too much stress on the body too early, and believes that there are two important stresses to consider when taking up running: the physiological and mechanical.

The physiological stress is placed on the heart and body system, which can lead to fatigue and poor performance, while the mechanical is on the muscles, tendons and bones, and can cause tissue breakdown and overuse injuries.

Parle says there is no evidence to link frequency of training with injury but adds from a mechanical stress perspective it is better to spread your workload over four to five days rather than two or three.

He also suggests to avoid radical changes in your exercise regime, recommending no more than a 10 per cent change in the volume or intensity of your workout at any one time. This gives your body time to adapt, and should also be considered when returning to exercise after a layoff.

It is important to select well-fitting running shoes that are light, and suit the shape and movement of the foot. While some shock absorption is good for reducing the impact on the feet, the absorption only needs to be thick enough to take the edge off.

Parle suggests 10 millimetres is enough, and that it is important to allow your feet to move freely. More is not necessarily better.

When starting, spend some time walking (10-15 minutes initially), gradually increasing your running a little at a time, and remember hills are your friend.

It is vital that you warm up before beginning your session. For a light jog take 10 minutes to gain your rhythm and another 10 to gradually cool down. The more intense the sessions are the more time should be spent warming up.

Maintain flexibility of your lower back, hips and ankles to enable a good free stride. Your flexibility should be checked at least once a week, focusing predominantly on those areas that feel tightest.

Practise your technique until your running is relaxed and steady. Elite runners run at a rate of 180 strides a minute, which allows the foot to land under the body, while also keeping the body's mechanics compact for absorbing impact and forward momentum.

Listen to your body. Work, study, family, stress, and quality of sleep all contribute to fatigue, which can often lead to injury. Maintain a balance in your life and take time out when you feel it is needed.

Do not set goals that are unachievable, nor plan your fitness regime too far ahead. Aim for short to medium-term goals and adjust your routine accordingly.

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