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Runners: Set Realistic Goals and Listen to your Body

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By Susan J. White

NorthShore University HealthSystem

 

With new fitness trends emerging every day, running is still among the most popular ways to get and stay in shape. But for those who may be new to the sport or returning after a long or sedentary absence, setting some basic goals and taking precautions is an important step to avoiding injuries and staying healthy.

 

“It’s important to look at your initial goals and take an inventory of what your current capabilities are,” says Eric L. Chehab, M.D., a NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) affiliated specialist in sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery.

 

Setting realistic goals whether you want to run a marathon or lose a few pounds is essential to staying on track and achieving health benefits, Dr. Chehab explains. “It may be that you need to start with brisk walking or alternate between walking and jogging,” he says. And rather than set off on a long course, beginning runners should consider using a treadmill or running on a track to build up endurance, he adds.

 

“Choose a location where you can build up endurance without putting yourself at risk,” says Dr. Chehab. “I see a lot of patients who think they really need to go for it right away, but if you overdo it the first time out you will pay the price overall and certainly set your training back.”

 

Every runner is at risk for repetitive overuse injuries including stress fractures, and Dr. Chehab says a healthy, well-balanced diet is an important factor in preventing these injuries. “I would not recommend running for those who are on restricted diets. Runners really need adequate, and often more than normal, calorie consumption with enough calcium and vitamin D.” Many essential vitamins are fat soluble, so a healthy diet for runners includes sufficient amounts of fat, he adds.

 

Warming up, good stretching and proper cool downs can also help prevent injuries, Dr. Chehab explains. Stretching is very important and new runners as well as experienced runners would do well to stretch before and after running, and maybe even get a third stretch in later in the day, he adds.

 

Cross training with other exercises can help build endurance while giving some muscles and joints a rest from running.  “Swimming, biking and rowing machines offer good, low-impact options for building strength and cardio fitness,” explains Dr. Chehab.

 

One of the most important strategies in preventing injuries is listening to your body, says Dr. Chehab. “If you develop pain or swelling, it’s a sign that you’ve overdone it.” The most common areas where runners feel pain and can develop injuries are knees, feet and ankles and hips. “You need to heed the body’s warning. If you try and run through it you put yourself at risk for more serious injury,” he says, recommending that runners who start feeling joint pain take some time off, ice the injured area and perhaps take an anti-inflammatory.

 

While taking time off, consider switching to swimming or another low-impact exercise, but if the injury does not respond to rest and icing in a few days it is important to see a physician, says Dr. Chehab.

 

Running clubs or charity team training programs can also help new runners both in motivation and in sensible training plans. “There are some great organizations that have lots of experience in training for marathons and shorter races and they can help you train safely,” explains Dr. Chehab.

 

The most expensive running shoes are not necessarily the best, but it is important to find shoes that fit and are comfortable, he adds.

 

NorthShore University HealthSystem operates four hospitals in the Chicago area including Evanston, Glenbrook, Highland Park and Skokie Hospitals. For more information, go to northshore.org.

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