The London Marathon takes place later this month and I, like millions of others, will watch in wonderment as the runners push themselves beyond normal limits to complete the 26 mile, 385 yard distance, spurred on to achieve their personal bests or raise money for their chosen charities.
Undeniably, marathon training and the event itself is extreme and causes tremendous strain on the body, beyond the physical capabilities of many recreational runners.
Reassuringly, you don’t have to run a marathon to reap the rewards of this excellent form of exercise. Even running short distances increases stamina and burns calories. It improves blood circulation efficiency as well as reducing the risks of angina, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and strokes.
Being a weight-bearing exercise, it builds bone strength too, reducing the risk of osteoporosis as we age.
Best of all perhaps, it releases endorphins, those happy hormones that produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation which help decrease stress levels and encourage a good night’s sleep.
So there’s every reason to take up running. Begin by walking for 10 minutes, gradually building up speed until you are able to walk briskly. Once achieved, begin jogging until you are out of breath, then walk. When you’re breathing steadily again, resume jogging and repeat this until you are able to run continuously.
You are then ready to extend running time by five minutes a day until you can run non-stop for 20-30 minutes. Remember to warm-up, cool-down and stretch too.
For good technique, run with shoulders down, arms relaxed and lean slightly forward from the hips. Ensure you invest in the correct footwear to help protect your joints.
Very overweight people can begin with shallow-water walking to support bodyweight and as fitness improves, progress to water-running before starting on a treadmill or outside.
Sadly, the high-impact nature of running means those with inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or anyone with pre-existing joint conditions should avoid it.
Always consult your doctor before starting an exercise programme.