Thoughts of a starting-over jogger
I'm in my mid 40s and I noticed after Christmas that the weight wasn't going away. I was also breathless after climbing stairs or walking briskly. The moment had arrived.
I hadn't done any serious exercise for over a decade and had known for a while that the day would come when if I didn't start exercising again, I probably never would. If you're no longer taking regular exercise as a matter of course, you've probably figured this out too. The implications for your health of not realising it are grave.
Our swimming pool being all but closed these days, I decided to take up jogging, inspired by the MHF marathon runner Gary's blog. Now pretty much anyone can take up jogging — though if you aren't even used to walking you should definitely do that first — but there are a few things to remember.
Actually, that's not true, all the good advice and tips for jogging all boil done to one thing: don't get injured.
Why? Well, apart from the obvious - if you're injured you can't run — one in four of people who are injured are forced to give up as a result. A very high risk and one that gets higher the older your body is when you start putting it through its paces.
A very useful maxim for ensuring that you remain uninjured is: don't do more today that you will be able to do tomorrow. It's very easy in a burst of enthusiasm to run far too far, too quickly with the result that your legs are battered and aching for days afterwards and you don't go out again.
While footballers and rugby players might be able display their injuries as a badge of courage, an injury through jogging is always your fault.
The typical pattern for starting-over joggers like me is this: you take it very easy at first, gradually go a little faster and for a little longer each time and then on the sixth or seventh run, you get injured. The reason is that your cardiovascular performance (your heart and lungs, essentially) rises to the task you're setting for it quicker than your muscles and skeleton.
You notice by the third or fourth run that you're already not so breathless as you were the first time. You're really pleased and rightly so. It's a good sign for your lungs. But it doesn't mean that the rest of your body has improved at the same pace — building up effective muscles takes longer. Pushing them to the new limit that you believe your heart and lungs will allow you to will result in injury. It happens time and again.
Your body will tell you all you need to know but you need to learn how to listen to it. It's very easy — especially for we men who aren't great at listening at the best of times and believe in that 'no pain, no gain' nonsense - to run though a little aching in legs, especially when your heart appears to be telling you that it's OK. But that pain is there for a reason and, if you ignore it, the muscle will give out on you and you won't be running again for a while. At best, it'll be back to square one; at worst, you join the hordes who drop out of exercise through injury.
To reduce these risks, I don't think starting-over joggers should run everyday — certainly not at first.
Often the after-effects are more noticeable two days after running than the following morning. Taking your time helps you better to get to know your body and how it reacts to what you're putting it through.
Before work or after work? The time of day at which you run makes a big difference. 10am is the peak time for heart attacks, Monday the most popular day. You don't need to be old to have a heart attack either. US figures suggest a third of men under 60 will have heart problems and the first you know of it could be a heart attack.
Also the muscles are also far tighter after a night in bed than after a day in action. For both these reasons take it easier in the morning.
For example, take longer warming up in the morning. Warming up and warming down are an essential part of the exercise. There's a good section on this here on malehealth.
Warm-up for longer the older you are and the longer you will be jogging for. Similarly with warming down. Make sure you're warming up and warming down the right muscles — this is relatively easy with jogging as walking will do this.
Warming up and warming down is not just something you have to do so that you can exercise, it is exercise in its own right as is develops flexibility.
This is very important since most physical disability in older age is cause not by lack of muscle strength or cardiovascular capacity but by lack of flexibility — not being able to stretch or move freely.
You don't need much equipment to jog but there is one gadget which for me is probably second in importance only to decent running shoes and socks for the starting-over jogger: a heart-rate monitor. A basic one is all you need and they cost no more than a normal watch. This gadget will take account of some of the factors that you might not. Mine showed me very starkly how much higher my heart rate was in the morning, for example.
For your heart and muscles to get the most out the exercise the experts reckon you need to exercise at between 60% and 85% of your maximum heart rate.
This zone ensures your heart works hard enough to improve it but not so hard that it damages itself. You maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age so mine's 220-43=177. So my safe zone is a pulse of 115 beats per minute to 150. A heart rate monitor can keep you in this zone. Run until you get out of the zone then walk until you're comfortably back in it again.
Your effective cardiovascular exercise time is the time you spend in this safe zone not the time you spend running. Time spent walking in the zone is effective too and puts less strain on your muscles. and joints In other words, at the start you can happily spend a lot of the time walking and still get the benefit to your heart. Now, tell me that the body is not beautifully designed.
Time spent below the zone is not doing a great deal for your heart and lungs though it will still exercise your body. Spend too long above the zone and, unless you are an experienced athlete and genuinely fit, you're not doing yourself any favours.
Build up your routine slowly. A little more — just a minute more or 50 yards further is fine. You don't even need to do more each time as long as long as you're going in the right general direction. Do this without getting injured you may even start to enjoy it. You certainly won't if you're a hobbling wreck after a week.
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Page created on April 3rd, 2006
Page updated on December 1st, 2009