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Pounding the pavement for better health

Ashley Fox has vital tips for those who want to take up running this winter

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Running is a great form of aerobic exercise that targets multiple body systems and improves one’s overall health and well-being. Ashley Fox, co-ordinator of the Be Fit for Life Centre and the facilitator of the marathon program at the University of Calgary, gave us the low-down on the essentials of running.

Taking up running can be quite daunting and potentially dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Injury is preventable as long as a runner practices good running technique.

“Good elements include a forward lean or working with gravity to run, not braking by coming back,” said Fox. “Keep a nice upright posture, arms working with the legs so that they are not just flopping by your side and push all the way through your stride so that you propel yourself forward.”

Warming up properly before a run is also important. Fox recommends undertaking dynamic stretching — or stretching by moving — before a run and doing some static stretching after.
“Start with a light jog to get the blood flowing and use active ranges of motion that simulate what the run will be like,” said Fox.

Stretching is especially important for the couch potato, who may be struck by a sudden inspiration to start running despite not being physically prepared.

“If you have a sedentary lifestyle, a warm-up is very helpful in preparing the body so that you are not just going from sitting to running,” said Fox.

Allowing for sufficient rest between runs and letting the body adapt to increasing distances is also important. This is known as progressive overload. It is better to start off slowly and progressively increase the pace and distance that one runs.

“Do not increase your mileage more than 10 per cent of your overall volume per week or training cycle,” said Fox. “Essentially, not doing too much too fast and letting the body make the physiological adaptations so that you are successful. It will help to prevent injury.”

Running does not involve just your legs. Hip and core strength is essential for improving a runner’s ability and minimizing injuries to the knees, ankles and feet.

“It is important to strengthen the body as a whole,” said Fox.

Running can lead to extensive health benefits. For example, running combats osteoporosis by improving bone density. Aerobic exercise has also been found to reduce the odds of being diagnosed with many types of cancers including breast, prostate and colon cancer. Aerobic exercise also wards off cardiovascular disease, which is the number 1 killer of Canadians.

Improved cognitive functioning is one benefit of running that is especially pertinent to students. Running stimulates neurogenesis, which is the production of new neurons in the brain. As a result running has the potential to improve one’s attention span and help recover some of those cells lost to wayward nights spent at Thursden.

“More and more research is being done around exercise and the brain and what exercising in the morning can do before an academic setting,” said Fox. “Quite often it provides better focus and concentration.”

On another note, Calgary has a brutally long winter, which could deter runners from enjoying the many beautiful pathways that are available. However, the determined runner must take extra precautions to enjoy a healthy winter run.

“When it is icy or cold we tend to tense up,” said Fox. “We will notice our lower back and hips tend to be a bit more sore after a run. We are more prone to fall when we are tense. So it is important to remind ourselves to relax and to still get into the same rhythm of running in the winter, just to ensure that we are not falling or seizing up.”

Hydration is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. When we are dehydrated our blood becomes thicker and our body has to work harder to pump it, making a run more difficult than it has to be. Always bring a bottle of water if you plan on running for more than 45 consecutive minutes.

“Another key piece with running in the winter is that we don’t hydrate the same because we are not as thirsty or as aware of how much we are sweating without the heat and humidity of summer,” said Fox.

Diet is also important for a successful run. What you eat before and after a run can play a significant role in achieving your fitness goals. Protein and carbohydrates are the essentials, but it is more important you get those from real food and not from supplements.

“You could buy any product off the shelf that says it’s for running, but all they are doing is taking the components of a good snack,” said Fox, who recommends carbohydrates for a pre-run snack and a combination of carbohydrates and protein post-run. “A good snack beforehand might be yogurt with some berries. Afterwards, you want to make sure that you have enough protein to rebuild what is lost. Chocolate milk fits the mould very well. After a run you want to be having a carbohydrates to protein ratio of three to one.”

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