Regular walking or running is a great way to Age Well—but if you’re just starting out creating a new fitness habit, it’s wise to start slow and build up. What follows is advice from Todd Lutz, the Get Fit coordinator at Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better in Tucson. Todd’s recommendations can take you “from couch to 5K,” with an eye on May 19—the second annual Veterans and First Responders 5K Run/Walk and Memorial Mile Run/Walk. (See side bar.)
Participating in a 5K is a fun and social challenge, and signing up for one gives you a firm goal or deadline for getting in shape. (For the record, 5 kilometers is just over 3 miles.)
“The important thing is to make a plan,” Todd stresses. “Choose a run or event, and then give yourself time to prepare. Be aware that you might need four to six months if you’re new to running.”
Todd advises beginning runners to “plan on a slow progression. Be careful not to do too much at first—if you push yourself too hard, you’ll either quit out of frustration or suffer an injury.” He recommends starting with a mix of mostly walking with some jogging. “Begin with 20 minutes walking and slowly build up to a combination of running and walking, eventually reaching 30 minutes of running,” he suggests. “No matter what pace you’re going, be sure to give your body the rest it needs. A good first week is 20 to 30 minutes’ total of walking/running every other day.” Focus on getting a little farther or staying out a bit longer every time.
Before You Run
When you begin running regularly, it’s important to stay hydrated—though to be comfortable, avoid drinking a lot of water right before you head out.
And each time you’re ready for a run, start with a light warm-up. “This can include a mixture of walking, light jogging, and dynamic stretching, where you’re moving rather than holding a stretch,” says Todd. Good dynamic stretches include a “wooden soldier walk” where you walk with stiff arms and legs, light skipping, lunges, high knees, and leg curls. “At this point, you’re warming up your muscles and circulating blood to them—then you’ll be ready for a run,” Todd adds.
While You’re Running
When you start out, don’t focus on your speed. “You will get faster,” Todd says. “Don’t be afraid to walk a while so you can catch your breath and slow your heart rate.” You can use the “talk test” to see if you’re working too hard. “If you’re able to talk while you run, you’re at a good pace,” Todd says. “Otherwise, you’re working too hard. If you’re having trouble carrying on a conversation, slow down a little.”
After Your Run
Cool down at the end of your run with static stretching. “You can end your run with a couple of minutes walking to slow your heartbeat back down to a normal pace, finishing with some stretches,” says Todd. “Take it slow and easy, and hold each one for 30 or 40 seconds.”
Step It Up
Your “rest days” don’t have to be spent relaxing; consider trying strength training or cross training on those days to work different parts of your body. “This gives you variety and keeps you from being bored with your workouts,” says Todd. “Cross training might include cycling or swimming, or even sports like tennis or basketball.”
Todd encourages new runners to do some research. “Search online for plans for preparing for a 5K or fun run, get ideas for dynamic and static stretches—there are a lot of excellent resources on the Internet,” he points out.