We demand to be healthy on many fronts. We want to run well and consistently, to eat right, and to feel energised and optimistic about life. For us, the pursuit of good health isn’t just about avoidance. It’s about being proactive in four important categories: injury-prevention, general health, nutrition and mental outlook.
We consulted dozens of experts for their running and health advice from coaches, nutritionists, psychologists and biomechanists.
The result: A nifty list of tips to lower your risk of flu and colds; a wall map to keep you motivated all year; simple exercise to prevent ankle sprains, plus several other ways to take charge of your own well-being.
Don’t rush your run:
Trying to squeeze a 5km run into world-record time can lead to stress, fatigue and injury. “Your daily training runs should be relaxing, they should include a proper warm-up whether that’s brisk walking or easy jogging and they should come after a brief period of anticipation,” says sports psychologist Michael Sachs. “That is, give yourself a chance to look forward to it.”
Strengthen your ankles:
Strong ankles will help you avoid sprains and other injuries, and they’ll help you run more efficiently.
Try this: With your eyes closed, stand in a doorway balancing yourself on one foot, gradually working up to 45 seconds for each foot. “This also improves nerve conduction from feet to brain, which will enable you to quickly straighten your foot when stepping on uneven surfaces, further preventing sprains,” says podiatrist Richard Braver.
Do this exercise two or three time a week.
Incorporate rest days and rest weeks:
No one ever got a knee injury from watching TV on a couch. Take at least one preferably two days a week off from running. This is when your body says thank you and heals all those little aches and pains, preventing them from becoming big aches and pains.
Also, a good rule of thumb is to alternate hard weeks (i.e. more mileage) with easy weeks (less mileage). Or run two hard weeks, then back off for an easy week.
Watch wet surfaces:
Slick asphalt and slippery mud are an invitation to fall, so slow down as you approach these surfaces. And don’t run on trails or grass after a steady rain. “These may be too soft and mushy, which can put extra strain on your feet, Achilles and calves,” says Dr Braver.
Don’t mix hills and speed:
A hill workout (for example, eight times up a gradual hill) and a speed workout (for example, eight 400m repeats) during the same week can overstress the illiotibial band, which runs along the outside of the knee, leading to tendinitis,” says sports doctor Dan Pereles. “Do one or the other, not both during the same week.”
Be careful of concrete:
More than any other surface, concrete sends the force of each stride up into the leg. So don’t run on it. Or at the very least, vary your terrain so you mix concrete surfaces with grass, gravel, trails and treadmill running on different days of the week.
Don’t run in old shoes:
Your first line of defence against overuse injuries is where the rubber meets the road. Change shoes every 500 to 700 kays, or when the shoes seem worn out, to make sure you’re pounding the pavement, not vice versa.
Incorporate cycling, swimming and/or walking into your week to give your legs a needed break from the impact of running. This aids recovery and helps prevent fatigue-induced injuries.
Heat things up:
For minor aches and pains, apply heat (in the form of a heating pad or hot water bottle) to the problem area for 15 minutes before your run. “If the area feels better, then it’s usually okay to run,” says Dr Braver. If you still experience soreness, it’s best to take a day off. And if the pain continues, see a doctor.
Over 40? Hit the gym:
“Injuries would be cut in half if every runner over 40 runner started strength training,” says physical therapist Jim Porterfield.
Weight training strengthens and energises the whole body, and it’ll help keep you injury-free. Aim for two sessions a week, and figure to do eight to 10 different exercises that work your entire body.