Adding Strength Training Into Your Cardio Routine: Part 2

If you’re seeking to gain greater muscle definition, visible strength, or want to better address muscle imbalances, there’s no need to add expensive equipment to your strength training workouts. Incorporating a few dumbbells and resistance bands isn’t a big investment in time or space and you can even tuck some into an ottoman or under a bookshelf if you don’t have a lot of space to store equipment. As a continuation of our circuit-style strength training article, here are a two inexpensive ways to increase your strength training options.

Add a few free-weights. Dumbbells will give you options for targeting your biceps and back muscles, which tend to be areas we want more growth and definition than can be easily reached through bodyweight training. You can also start adding resistance to your lower body and core work by combining upper body dumbbell work with a lower body or core movement such as a lunging bicep curl or a chest press using a fitness ball.

Adding dumbbells is generally something you want to do if you’re seeking muscle growth and more power, which means you want to stick to low or moderate reps (not more than ten) over the three sets you perform. For most women, start with about 10 pounds for working the arms and 15 pounds for the back. Men can generally add five pounds to those numbers as a starting point and build from there. To get started with basic dumbbell exercises, this website provides a way of targeting almost any body part using these simple weights.

Snap to it with resistance bands. If you want to see improvement in performance and function, as well as long, lean muscle, resistance tubing is a great alternative to free weights. Tubing also travels well, making it a great way to stick to your workouts on the road. You can begin by adding in lower body challenges or use tubing to target your entire body and core. If you’re looking for inspiration, these resistance band exercises will give you plenty of ways to step up the intensity of your intervals, and increase your power and performance both on and off the sports field this spring.

Overall, adding in strength and bodyweight circuits into your cardio routine is a great way to keep your heart rate up so you don’t have to choose between strength training and cardio when time is short.

Do you have a favorite bodyweight or strength circuit? Share in the comments below.

Adding Strength Training Into Your Cardio Routine

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Are tight schedules and a lack of equipment keeping you from getting the benefits of strength training? If you find yourself making excuses rather than making your workouts, it’s time to develop a program that works with you and your schedule. Low equipment and no equipment forms of strength training are excellent ways to build muscle and improve your functional movements. Plus, adding in circuit-style strength training to your cardio workouts at home can keep your heart rate up so you don’t have to choose between strength training and cardio when time is short.

From burpees to tuck jumps, there are plenty of equipment-free ways to keep your heart pumping while you build muscle. If adding impact to your workouts seems a bit extreme, you can choose no-impact options such as planks and squats. Bodyweight strength training will increase your functional capacity, making you stronger for the movements you do (or should be doing) every day.

A great program might start with a warm-up on your Vision treadmill, indoor bike or elliptical, followed by five stations of exercises targeting the chest and/or back, lower body, core, arms, or entire body at once. Spend one minute at each station and repeat the entire circuit 2-3 times depending on your schedule. During the second and third rounds, you can increase the intensity on your fitness equipment to be sure that you keep your heart rate within your cardiovascular training zone. If you’re already in good shape, try to aim for intense intervals during your time on your fitness equipment, as well as during your lower and full body exercises.

For options that will suit everyone from beginners to athletes, this list of 50 Bodyweight Exercises you can do anywhere will give you plenty of choices to design your first circuit and keep it fresh for months to come. If you need help designing your first workout, here’s an example of a beginner workout using bodyweight exercises.

Whether you’re just getting started or want to seriously power up your workouts, low equipment and no equipment forms of strength training are excellent ways to build muscle and improve your functional movements.

Check out part two of this article on how to add in more free weight and resistance band workouts to boost your home cardio routine.

Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Heart’s Health

As we round the corner into spring, it is a great time to check-in and renew your commitment to a healthy year. A heart-healthy year. If you want to be healthy into your old age, it’s important to begin treating your heart well early on. The American Heart Association emphasizes maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and smoking cessation as primary steps towards preventing heart disease. Assuming you’re up to date on your most recent physical, blood work, and doctor recommendations, what are the biggest ways to impact your heart with your daily choices? Here are five simple ways to boost your heart’s health.Heart Healthy Tips

Avoid Processed Foods. Steering clear of processed foods not only limits hidden sugars, sodium, and fake ingredients that sneak into your diet, it also forces you to emphasize the foods that reduce inflammation, improve your immunity and are packed with fiber, protein and micronutrients that do everything from boost your heart health to increase your ability to recover from your last workout. Try switching your breakfast cereal to oatmeal, which can assist in lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, or building your meals around five foods that benefit your heart to include more produce, lean protein and healthy fats in your diet.

Get Your Workouts Started. For overall heart health, get moving at least 150 minutes per week. That can be 30 minutes every day, 10 minutes a few times each day, or an hour a few times each week. If you are new to working out regularly, or have current heart issues, this is a good zone to stay in for a few months to build up your endurance and confidence. Once these workouts become easier to accomplish and part of your everyday routine, it’s time to start making them tougher. You can start by adding in a tough workout (see below) once or twice a week.

Toughen Up your Workouts. Including tough workouts in your program is one of the best ways to help you manage your weight, as well as challenge your heart to make it stronger. Working out hard means your workouts can be shorter, accomplishing more in less time on busy days. A hard workout also means you’re challenging your heart at a higher level, increasing your cardiovascular fitness, your post workout recovery demands (calorie burn) and building muscle. If your current workouts are bringing you into your aerobic threshold (about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate) and you’re in good physical health, you can start to bring in some interval training that increases your heart rate to between 85% and 100% of your maximum heart rate for brief periods (30 seconds to 2 minutes) during your training. You can do this by increasing either the speed or the resistance on your Vision home fitness equipment, or by using the interval setting provided on most machines.

Lift Weights. To keep improving your overall health and daily functioning, considering adding in some strength training. At a minimum, shoot for two strength training sessions each week, hitting the major muscle groups of your body. If you’re looking to start building muscle and improve your performance, slowly add in a third session to help you see results. (Just be sure to give yourself a day to recover between workouts.) To get even more out of your workout and increase the cardiovascular impact, combine movements to target multiple muscle groups at once, such as stepping into a lunge with a bicep curl or doing full body planks and push-ups to strengthen nearly everything in your body. Another idea is to including strength training as a part of a circuit approach, alternating 60-90 seconds of one exercise with the same period of time on your cardio equipment. Your body will be cashing in on the body changing benefits of a weight routine in no time.

Manage Stress. By choosing regular exercise and a healthy diet, you’ve taken some important steps towards controlling the stress in your life. You can add to those steps by including mindfulness, gratitude, meditation or yoga in your fitness routine. For more suggestions, check out the American Heart Association’s resources on understanding and managing stress. These steps can all pay you back with a happier life now – and better health in the long run.

Do you have a question about general fitness, goal setting, getting the most out of your Vision Fitness equipment, etc.? Our fitness experts would love to answer your question in an upcoming blog post on VisionFitness.com. Just leave your question in the comments below.

 

New Year’s Resolutions That Stick

While New Year’s resolutions frequently get a bad rap, forming one (or more) is a great way to start making healthy changes or to keep things moving in the right direction. Statistics citing that nearly half of all resolutions fail within six months are frequently thrown around to demonstrate the hopelessness of such a venture, but about half of the New Year’s resolvers also manage to make a lasting change. What separates the successful from the sidelines? Setting up the right resolutions and giving yourself the right tools is what it really takes to see a lasting impact from your good intentions.

Make your Resolution Specific. With your Vision Home Fitness equipment, you’ve already got a good start on keeping your fitness resolutions this year. To make sure you’re in the half that succeeds, take the time to make a resolution that sets you up for success. General resolutions such as “exercise more” or “lose weight”, without a specific plan for getting to that goal, sets you up to fail. Make your resolution specific and include a timeframe, whether that means eating two vegetables every day or losing a pound each week. You can also set a health related goal for a future point in time, such as running your first 5K this spring, then work backwards with a plan, such as a couch to 5K schedule or an appointment with a professional to get you on track.

Do your Homework. The website Usa.gov is a great resource for tips on succeeding in your resolutions. From eating healthy and getting active, to finding another job, this page offers a list of common New Year’s resolutions and provides a direct link to a webpage that will provide you with resources to help meet your goal. Even if you’ve already got the “eat right and exercise” thing down, you can still find support for activities that can improve your life and health, as well as that of others, such as volunteering (don’t forget about the Martin Luther King Day of Service on January 20) or enhancing your education. You can also read up on reinforcing your resolutions and creating habits if you really want to make a change in your daily routine.

Create Your Support Network. Simply creating a broad statement of your intention and posting it on Facebook or sharing it with your spouse can actually have a negative effect. Rather than helping you keep your resolution, this may help you feel that you’ve already taken some responsibility for the change and leave you feeling a little freer to make bad choices. Instead, create a network of support through people that are as invested in your goals as you are. This might mean setting up an appointment with a nutritionist, personal trainer, or physical therapist if you need support to reach your eating or exercise goals. You can also find group support through a weight loss focused group or like-minded athletes, such as a running group or intramural sport. If you have a friend or spouse with similar goals, setting up times to train together and ways to celebrate and support each other’s victories can also be a big help.

Measure and Reward. By creating a resolution that is based on time sensitive milestones, you’ve created a calendar for measuring your success. Try to find regular ways to reward your good behavior, especially during the first month. By staying with your resolution through the month of January, you’re ahead of the crowd. While over a third of resolvers tend to break within the first month, failures happen much more slowly after that. When you set up your rewards, find ways to reward yourself that are likely to keep you moving in the direction of the good behavior you’re trying to create. If exercise is your plan, make sure you earn a new pair of running shoes or athletic clothing (or just some new workout music). If you’re looking to eat right, maybe you could pay for a share in a Community Supported Agriculture program or a night out at a restaurant with health conscious offerings. Initially start with frequent rewards, every week or two, and start to space out the frequency after the first month as your new behaviors become habits.

Cheers to a happy and healthy 2014!

Healthy Holiday Tips That Won’t Leave You Feeling Deprived

Finding balance between your commitment to staying fit and well, reality, is tough and it only gets tougher in the holiday season. Close quarters and cold weather challenge our immune systems and unrestricted family time presents its own challenges to our mental health, not to mention the dinner table and the threat it poses to undoing our efforts to eat right and exercise. Here are six tips to stay on track this holiday season and beyond.

Have a good breakfast. While it’s tempting to skip breakfast to offset the damage of the feast to come, doing so sets up a cycle of plummeting blood sugar that leaves you likely to skip your workout, head into the festivities feeling cranky and unlikely to enjoy the party, and ready to put anything into your mouth to hold you over until dinner. Start your morning right with a protein-heavy meal that will hold you for hours to come. Including eggs in your breakfast is a great bet to support weight loss (or maintenance) and a healthy immune system. For just 70 calories per egg, you invest in a high nutrient food that is likely to leave you eating less throughout the day (as much as 400 calories less according to one study)!  You can offset the calories by including a quick workout that will rev up your metabolism and your mood for the rest of the morning.

Squeeze in a morning workout. You’ve already taken a big step towards making your daily workouts convenient and accessible through investing in your home fitness equipment. On days that you’re pressed for time, use your treadmill, elliptical or recumbent bike for a quality workout that packs a big impact in a short period of time. A High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session is approachable for all fitness levels and will rev up your metabolism and improve your blood sugar in as little as ten minutes (though if you can go for 20 that’s even better). Start out with a short warm-up of 2-5 minutes, then alternate between period of maximum effort (45-90 seconds) and recovery (1-2 minutes). The shorter the recovery period and the longer the intervals, the tougher your training session, so base your approach on your fitness level.  Finish your workout with 2-5 minutes of recovery and enjoy the bragging rights that workout gives you at the day’s festivities.

Practice gratitude. From lowering your blood pressure to improving your mental health, the benefits of gratitude go far beyond lip service. As you head into potentially stressful days, take the time to really recognize the abundance that exists in your daily life. If you have the time, you can even complete this gratitude exercise and see the difference that bringing appreciation into your morning creates throughout the day.

Make plans. Even though family events and a full house can bring their share of stress, they might also be good for you in the long run. Research shows that strong social connections lead to happier, longer lives. Steer clear of those you know set you off and take the opportunity to really connect with someone you care about, whether that’s in person or taking the time to call or send a card. Including the right people in your life can also be a great opportunity to boost your commitment to a healthy lifestyle through supporting your diet and exercise plans.

Get outside. While you’re enjoying your social connections, why not grab your favorite cousin or sibling and head outside? Not only does this give you the chance to create some memories, you can also ditch family members who might be less than supportive of your healthy lifestyle. It’s no secret that spending time outdoors is good for you.  You’ll also receive benefits ranging from strengthened immunity, a healthy dose of Vitamin D (harder to come by at this dark time of year) and improved concentration (just the thing for cleaning up at the post-feast card game).

Enjoy your meal. Sure, the holiday table spread is loaded with caloric nightmares that start with butter and end with whipped cream, however, there are some seriously nutrient-dense choices that grace every traditional table as well. Enjoy your turkey, even the dark meat. Loaded with protein and iron, it’s filled with the stuff you need to build muscle and recover from your tough workouts. Whether you take them baked, in a casserole, or in pie form, enjoy your sweet potatoes and squash. They’re packed with beta carotene that can strengthen your resistance to the cold someone inevitably brought to the party, and maybe even help you to fight off cancer in the long run.

Wishing you a healthy holiday season!

Keep Moving through the Holidays

From full schedules to abundant tables, the holidays make it more important than ever to make the time to take care of yourself and your body. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to fit in your workout when the days grow short and the weather turns cold. With your investment in home fitness equipment, you already know that staying fit doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of time away from your family or finding extra hours in an already busy day. If you’re looking to ring in the New Year feeling healthy, try these tips to keep yourself going strong.

Pick an Outdoor Workout. If you enjoy staying active outdoors, don’t let the holiday’s drive you into hibernation. By dressing appropriately (here’s a good guide to get you started), you can continue outdoor running through the winter. You can even use your treadmill, elliptical or indoor cycle to warm up inside before heading out for a run that is shorter than usual but still gives you the benefits of an outdoor workout (and the bragging rights of a hard core winter runner). If winter running just isn’t your thing, consider cross training in another winter sport, such as snow-shoeing or cross country skiing or head out to celebrate the season with a day (or evening) of sledding, skating or time on the slopes. Wondering just how many calories your evening of sledding will burn? Check out this link of calories burned in popular winter activities. Whatever your sport, don’t forget to hydrate before you head out. Winter air tends to be on the dry side and with lower temperatures, dehydration can sneak up on the winter sports enthusiast.

Get Tech Savvy. From scheduling your workouts in your online planner to using the latest GPS app on your smart phone to track your running route, today’s fitness tools can help you with everything from calorie counting to interval planning. You can check out this link for a review of fitness apps that can help keep the life in your winter workouts.

Break Down your Goals. Looking to improve your 5K time or simply stay healthy in 2014? Use your big goals to think about achievements for the month of December that will be manageable well into the new year. Perhaps you see yourself establishing (or continuing) your healthy habit of daily exercise. Or maybe you’d like to take the first steps towards a couch to 5K training program. Whatever your goal, starting now in a manageable way will put you ahead of the January crowd, leaving you with established habits and results by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around.

Treat Yourself to the Right Gear. Whether you’re taking your workouts indoors or you plan on braving the weather, treating yourself to the right clothing and equipment will make all the difference in sticking to your schedule. For cross-training indoor workouts, you already know that your Vision Fitness Equipment will see you through. You can also round out your workouts by investing in a yoga DVD or online class or some simple strength training equipment that can be used to add circuits to your treadmill, elliptical, and indoor cycle workouts. If you’re trying a new outdoor sport, such as downhill or cross-country skiing, check out some of the early season swap sales and second hand sporting good venues. When enthusiasts trade up, you can score a sweet deal on nearly new equipment. If you’re sticking to outdoor winter running, be sure to add reflective clothing and some high traction shoes to your go-to items. You may find that trail running shoes will suit you better at this time of year. These offer increased insulation and tread compared to some of the lighter weight running shoes.

The Skinny on BMI

BMI, or Body Mass Index, is once again receiving some attention questioning its usefulness as an indicator of health. A recent article in Time magazine points out what athletes have known for years, that if you work out regularly, it’s easy to tip the scales into the overweight category according to BMI, even for very fit individuals. So what gives? Why do doctors keep using BMI to assess the health of their patients, and what do you need to know about BMI?

BMI uses a simple calculation based on height and weight to determine the likelihood that someone is carrying too much or too little body fat. Although it isn’t foolproof, it’s a pretty good starting point to determine whether you need to lose a few pounds. You can calculate your own BMI easily using an online calculator, like this one. If you’re a female with a medium to small build, a healthy body fat level, and not unusually muscular, you’ll probably find yourself fitting pretty easily within the healthy range. Once you get outside of those categories, BMI gets a little trickier.

We all know that muscle weighs more than fat and BMI is a classic example of how this bears out in practice. Since bodybuilders and other athletes emphasize gaining muscle in their training, they frequently fall into an unhealthy BMI, while exhibiting a very healthy range of body fat. This is one reason that both male and female athletes benefit from prioritizing performance over a number on the scale (here’s a fun blog on why weight isn’t always the best predictor of health or performance).

This happens across the board for men, women and even children. Since men have a lower percentage of body fat than women, and since BMI doesn’t consider gender, men are even more likely to be considered overweight by the BMI calculator, especially if they work out. So where does that leave you when calculating your goal weight or when talking to your doctor at your next physical?

Basically, BMI is a good starting point for a conversation about your weight. If you know that you’re overweight but you’re also pretty fit, BMI probably isn’t going to be the best way for you to establish your goal weight. We know that for overweight individuals, losing 10 percent of their bodyweight is associated with huge improvements in health indicators, so this might be the best place for you to start if you’re looking for an achievable goal with a big pay-off for your health.

Here are other indications of healthy bodyweight:

  1. Tracking body fat through skin caliper or electrical impedance testing. This isn’t perfect in terms of accuracy, but if you control for hydration and the individual doing the testing, it’s not bad.
  2. Changes in measurements, especially in the hips/thighs (for women) and the abdominal area (for men and women).
  3. The Body Adiposity Index is one tool that’s been thrown around as an alternative to the BMI, as an easy to use indicator of obesity that is based on measurements, rather than body weight. The calculation, like this one, for that index is based on your hip measurement to height ratio and can be a better indicator of health for muscular individuals.

The final word seems to be that, whether you’re male or female, as you gain muscle the numbers on the scale and calculations, such as BMI, based on that number lose some of their usefulness as the best indication of your health. Take a look at your energy levels, your blood test results (you’re getting those taken at your physical, too, right?), how your clothes fit and how your body measurements have changed over time. The best approach uses those, in conjunction with BMI, for a conversation with your doctor about whether your health is heading in the right direction.

Does BMI leave you confused? Have you mastered it? Tell us how you track your health in the comments below.

Exercise and Stress Levels

Behavioral Scientists and Medical Doctors seem to disagree on many issues. However, there is one subject they are in agreement over: Exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety. According to many experts, stress is one of the major contributing factors to how one ages, and ultimately one’s lifespan. The good news is that exercise can reduce stress, elevate your mood and promote a general feeling of well being, which can help us live more productive lives and age more gracefully.

According to an article published in the February 2011 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, aerobic exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which is often associated with an increase in belly fat. The reduction of these stress hormones is known to have positive effects on your cardiovascular system, muscular system, nervous system, as well as your brain.

Aerobic exercise also stimulates production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Mayo Clinic stated that physical activity serves as a form of meditation, allowing you to forget about the day’s irritations and focus only on your body’s movements. You will also get more restful sleep as a result of regular exercise.

The article goes on to say that behavioral factors also contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and stamina improve, so does your self image. According to Matthew Stults-Kolehnainen, PH.D, as told to HuffPost Healthy Living, exercise promotes neurohormones like norepinephrine that are associated with improved cognitive function, elevated moods and learning. Your renewed vigor and sense of self pride will help equip you in the future to deal with stressful situations in a much more productive manner. It sort of comes full circle.

As with all exercise programs, consult your physician first. Find what form of cardio exercise works for you and begin your program. If you are just starting out remember to start slow, set realistic goals and try to change your routine as much as possible. The typical recommendation is to increase your activity level weekly by 10 percent.

Remember, positive physical and mental health are lifelong goals. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Influence how you age by reducing your stress levels through a regular exercise routine and eating a properly balanced diet.

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/exercise-reduces-stress-levels-anxiety-cortisol_n_3307325.html http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036

Fitness Nutrition: Eating Right for Your Best Workout

It’s no secret that what you eat highly affects the quality of your home workouts. Without the right fuel, you lose performance and motivation, making you sluggish. Need help planning your nutrition strategy? Here are a few common nutritional challenges and a little advice on how to make them work for you.

Challenge 1: You’re working to lose weight and battling a tight schedule with work and family. You’ll be hitting the elliptical at 5 a.m. and really don’t have the time or appetite for breakfast. Besides, you’ve heard that working out on an empty stomach can help you burn fat.

Making it work: Although working out in a fasted state forces your body to burn fat as fuel, you won’t train as hard or burn as many calories, so you’ll lose ground by the time you eat breakfast. A better bet is an easily digested carbohydrate immediately prior to or during your workout. Great morning pre-workout snacks include juice, a sports drink or a banana smoothie. You may end up taking in a few more calories ahead of time, but you’ll burn them off with better performance during your workout and improved recovery following. Within an hour post-workout, top off with breakfast, including carbs and protein, for the most effective recovery and your best use of nutrients. Eggs and toast or a smoothie containing fruit and milk are both great options. On the go, try a nutrition bar containing both carbs and protein in a 4:1 ratio.

Challenge 2: You and your treadmill are meeting up for a 75-minute distance run after work as part of your half marathon training plan. You don’t want to run out of steam, but the afternoon snack you tried before your last workout left you with a side ache for your entire run.

Making it work: Your last snack probably didn’t work for you because of the timing or the content. If your workout is more than four hours from your lunch, you’re going to need a carbohydrate-heavy snack before you run. If you are one hour out from your workout, think simple carbs like those given above. Two to three hours out, you can probably tolerate something that has a little more fiber and even some protein to give you better nutrition and staying power. Stay low fat, since fat is likely to lead to digestion issues and stomach upset during your run. You might want to start by trying some low fat yogurt and a piece of fruit or some whole grain toast and jam about three hours before your run. Since your run is more than an hour, you’ll also want to experiment with adding in some easily digested carbs, such as a watered down sports drink, during your run.

Challenge 3: Building activity into your daily life has you looking forward to a laid back ride tonight with your favorite playlist and your indoor cycle after the kids are in bed. You don’t want to skip dinner with your family, but you know that a big meal makes for an uncomfortable workout. You also know that proper refueling is important, but you don’t want to overdo it before bed.

Making it work: Since your workout is low impact, you have a little more flexibility on eating beforehand, but you’re still better off keeping your meal light and low fat. Try reducing your portions by a third to half and skip the butter on your bread and veggies (great steps for losing weight, anyway!). You’re right that post workout you’ll need a little something before bed. Once again, concentrate on getting in some carbs and protein for the best recovery, although a little fat at this point won’t hurt you and might keep you satisfied through the night. You could try some pretzels and hummus, apples and peanut butter, or toast and a boiled egg.

The keys to fueling your home workout are to use your pre-workout window to emphasize carbohydrates that are easily digested with a bit of protein and fiber if you’re at least 2 hours out from your workout. For long workouts (more than an hour), you’ll need to add in a little something during the workout to keep you going. This should be easily digested and primarily a carbohydrate, such as sports drink, energy gel, or a banana and water. Post workout, concentrate on getting a meal within the next hour or two or a snack that contains both carbs and protein to help you protect the muscle you’re building and to help your body access its fat stores for better results. Following these few basic steps will make a big difference in the results you see from your workouts.

 

Why Running is Good for Your Health

The jury still seems to be out on whether running is really good for you, but I’m here to make the case that it is. With a well-balanced workout plan, running can provide tremendous health and emotional benefits for years (and years) to come.Vision Fitness running lifestyle image

Improve Cardio Health

Running is a fantastic way to improve your heart strength. As you run, your need for oxygen and blood flow increases, therefore making your heart pump harder and more frequently to supply the muscles with the energy they need to keep you moving. As you continue a running program, your heart, much like your other muscles, get stronger and more efficient. Also, running improves your immunity, which means less sick days.

Improve Muscle Tone

It’s a misconception among non-runners and beginners that running only works your legs and your heart. In reality, a proper running form engages a variety of muscles, helping you create tone and definition. Endurance running is great for achieving a lean look overall, but if you want to focus on different areas, you should try different workouts. Shorter intervals and sprint workouts can really help target more fast-twitch muscles, which are different from the slow-twitch muscles used in slow and steady long runs. Incorporating hill sprints will also target additional muscles you might otherwise miss. By its very nature, running also helps engage your core – how else would you stay upright? Pumping your arms triggers your back and shoulder muscles. So, focus on using everything you’ve got with every stride you take.

Lose Weight and Increase Bone Mass

Common sense tells you that in order to lose weight your calorie intake has to be less than your calories burned. If you naturally burn 2,000 calories per day, you have a lot more leeway than someone who only burns 1,200. Running is a powerhouse when it comes to calorie expenditure, even when walking the same distance.

“When you walk, you keep your legs mostly straight, and your center of gravity rides along fairly smoothly on top of your legs. In running, we actually jump from one foot to the other. Each jump raises our center of gravity when we take off, and lowers it when we land, since we bend the knee to absorb the shock. This continual rise and fall of our weight requires a tremendous amount of Newtonian force (fighting gravity) on both takeoff and landing,” says Runner’s World Editor Amby Burfoot.

It’s also worth mentioning that running, a weight bearing activity, is also great for increasing bone density, helping to decrease your risk of osteoporosis. As you run, your muscles pull on your bones to withstand the stress of the activity, thereby also making your bones stronger.

Improve Your Emotional Health                                                         

Being part of a social group may help decrease risk for depression. There is an enormous community centered on those who enjoy running. You may benefit from seeking out a run buddy, but even if you choose to run solo, you can be active socially with online and in-person running groups. Share your triumphs and tribulations with those who can relate.

Another positive aspect of running is the fund-raising sector. Train for and run in a community race that raises money for a cause you support. Running for a charitable event is a great way to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. Plus, you may meet some new friends.

Running is also great for helping you sleep better at night, therefore giving you more energy during the day. It also increases endorphins, which are what prompts the runner’s high you may have heard of.

How to Prevent Injury

Running is an incredibly healthy sport, but as with all activities, there is always a risk for injury. Mitigate that risk with a few quick tips.

Follow a diet filled with lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Of course running is a great way to lose weight, but incorporating a healthy diet can also help get you to a manageable weight, reducing strain on your back, knees, hips and ankles.

Stay relaxed. While you run, try to focus on any tense areas, in your shoulders for example, and work on letting it go. Drop your shoulders, unclench your hands and relax your facial muscles.

Strengthen your running muscles. If you find you have achy knees, it may be an issue of hip strength. Try squeezing in a few sets of walking lunges, wall sits and planks into your non-running days. Increase foot stability and strength by spending some time barefoot and including some balance work. Also, try cross-training, like biking, which is a fantastic way to get stronger and faster.

Stretch and recover. What you do after and in between runs is just as important as your running and strength workouts. Warm up for a run with a fast walk, not by stretching cold muscles. You increase your risk for injury. Instead, save your static and dynamic stretching for after your run, when you’re warm and your muscles have loosened.

Also, use a foam roller – every day if you can – it will help you recover faster by getting at those really tight spots and reducing inflammation. Make no mistake; it will be painful – at first. But if you continue rolling every day, you’ll find the trouble areas will begin to melt a bit, and you will start to look forward to self-myofascial release.

If you feel a nagging pain, take time off from your workout. As always, prior to starting a new training program, check with your health care professional to make sure you are in good enough health.

So there you have it. If you have always wanted to try running, but have been afraid of the hype, fear not. Follow these tips for a healthy, happy running habit.

Sources:

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/health-benefits-of-running

http://www.runnersworld.com/weight-loss/how-many-calories-are-you-really-burning?page=single

http://www.livestrong.com/article/368647-running-your-bone-density/

http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/rehabilitation-exercises/lower-leg-ankle-exercises/strengthening-exercises-foot

http://beta.active.com/running/articles/10-selfmyofascial-release-exercises-for-runners