Some people take up running as a way to stay in shape. Others dream of some day running a marathon. Whatever the reason for starting a running program, there are a few things to consider before you lace up those sneakers and hit the road.

Doctor’s approval. Before starting any fitness program, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor and go over your medical history, says Dr. Stephen Sutton of OMNI Medical Group in Tulsa. For patients over the age of 40, a physical exam and tests such as an EKG may be needed in order to rule out any underlying health issues that could be aggravated by running. Younger patients may also require testing if they have a family history of cardiovascular disease or concerns about other medical issues.

Don’t overdo it. Doing too much too soon and too quickly can cause new runners to burn out, not to mention put themselves at risk for shin splints, muscle sprains and other injuries, says Kate Critchfield of Fleet Feet Sports in Tulsa.

“Nobody gets to the finish line overnight,” Critchfield says, adding that new runners should gradually work up to a regular routine rather than to immediately push themselves to run long distances. Taking a run/walk approach, learning how to stretch muscles properly and slowly working up to a comfortable running schedule are key in maintaining a long-term fitness program and avoiding injury.

Train for success. Check with local running organizations for new-runner training opportunities in your area. At Fleet Feet, beginning runners can take advantage of the 12-week No Boundaries program in which beginners meet twice weekly for training runs with experts, as well as receive a daily training schedule and information that helps them gradually work their way up to running on a regular basis.

If the shoe fits, run in it. Properly sized and fitted shoes are important in helping runners stay comfortable and injury-free, according to both Sutton and Critchfield. Factors such as weight and whether your feet have flat, low or high arches can all determine what type of running shoe you need.

To ensure your running shoes are the right size and offer the right amount of support, check with a store that specializes in fitting runners. At Fleet Feet, both weighted and non-weighted measurements of runners’ feet are taken to determine the proper shoe size.

Runners also are videotaped while walking or jogging on a treadmill, says Critchfield. The video is played back, allowing the experts to determine if a runner needs a neutral-fitting shoe or one with more stability or cushion.

Consider the benefits. Sutton cites better cardiovascular health, improved circulation and weight loss as just a few of running’s pluses.

“Physical exercise in general increases your overall health,” he says. “It’s a good outlet for stress, too.”

Running also is a great way to spend time with friends, says Critchfield, adding that running with others can make exercising more fun and help you stick to your fitness goals.
“If you find someone to run with, they’ll keep you accountable,” says Critchfield. “You can set a goal and tell your friends about it so they’ll encourage you and keep you on track.”

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