As a participation sport, running has many members and among these there is a wide variety of goals and objectives sought from the activity. Many runners are competitive and use weekly training schedules to plan for future races over a number of distances. There are others who take up light running as a means of keeping body weight in check and have no intention of racing. For some people, running is a means of simply keeping fit and may be used in conjunction with other more sedentary sports. The idea of using 30 minutes for 3 times per week in running for fitness has gained widespread popularity.
There are arguments that fitness running does not actually achieve the required objectives in that only the heart, lungs and legs are exercised. Conversely, it is claimed that light running can induce a healthier lifestyle and helps to relax the mind allowing people just to feel fitter. Yet defining the term fitness can also be difficult as there are different levels and one person’s opinion will most likely differ from another in the degree of measurement.
Basically, fitness can be expressed as the means to perform exercise reasonably efficiently and where recovery rates diminish over time. When using running as a method of achieving this aim, a 3 mile run for example, will be viewed as a daunting experience at first requiring serious effort, but after a few weeks practice it becomes that much easier. This could be termed as cardiovascular fitness in that the body has become accustomed to absorbing oxygen at a more efficient rate and transferring it to the required muscles by the blood supply.
Of course running does not allow the body to become fitter for raising large weights or trying any complex gymnastics movements, but for people who just wish to require some degree of fitness the sport is only of several available for achieving general body fitness. Running does require minimal equipment other than a pair of running shoes and if running outside, the fresh air is free. By the very nature of running, the heart beats faster and the leg muscles in particular need to work harder. More fuel is burned via the metabolic system. After the workout, and assuming the rest period is sufficient, the body will recover but fitness will be measured by the ability to perform a similar session much more efficiently thereafter.
The main fitness benefits attainable from running can be summarised as follows…
- Greater efficiency of the heart and general blood circulation
- Control of any weight problem
- Leg muscles become stronger
- Mental awareness and confidence increases
- More mental and physical energy available
- If running outside, the prospect of absorbing much more fresh air, assuming the environment is conducive to this.
There may be other factors but these are the more general attributes associated with the effects of several running sessions over a few weeks. Naturally, running faster will probably allow even greater levels of fitness, assuming that the footwear is appropriate for the greater speed and injuries are avoided. The term running faster is also relative as a fast pace for some people will be 9 minutes per mile, while for others 6 minutes. To achieve a faster running pace for greater fitness, it is necessary to build up some basic pace in the first few weeks of running. It is important to start slowly as the body will protest if being asked to perform at too great an intensity.
During those initial stages of running for fitness the following may be applicable…
- Week 1 – Day 1 – Run Slowly and walk for 10-15 minutes. Feel comfortable. Day 2 – Rest. Repeat this pattern for the rest of the week.
- Week 2 – Repeat Week 1 pattern but increase the running and walking to 20 minutes.
- Week 3-4 – Repeat this to build up to 30 minutes.
- Week 5 – Try to run the full 30 minutes at one stage during this week, but very slowly
It will be remarkable to discover after just 5 weeks the increased levels of general fitness acquired, and it does not take that much effort, just a degree of motivation and commitment. Once there is a perceived reckoning that there is some degree of fitness in the body it will be surprising how much enthusiasm is generated for other activities. Suddenly the body feels in a good state of well-being.
The next stage will be in deciding how much more fitness is required. This may mean running for longer, faster or more frequently. A passion for running can be generated fairly quickly when attaining good levels of fitness, but this should not be damped by overkill. Running within individual limits is a good barometer for maintaining fitness levels, but when taking it a stage further, there are the added risks of sustaining injuries or suffering from burnout symptoms associated with extra competitiveness.
Jon Wade, a respected author on health and fitness issues, has also argued that running for fitness can create positive side effects for health issues. He claims that sleep becomes much easier after a light running session and that there is less risk of attracting colds and flu to a fitter body. The immune system functions much more efficiently in such cases, but once the level of activity stretches to training for a marathon race, the body becomes less effective in dealing with viruses. With marathon training, it becomes a case of not running for fitness, but to achieve a very challenging goal with the body under extreme pressure.
Thus it is important to realise fitness running is exactly as it is described. A degree of personal well-being is the only desired objective and any further intensity in training lends itself more to endurance fitness for which further precautions are necessary. Fitness is all relative and can be measured both physically and mentally, and while running is one of many sports offering a means to attain desired levels, costs can be significantly lower.