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Don't Take Off Running Just Yet, MU Fitness Expert Says

May 8, 2008

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Running is a popular way to lose weight and gain health benefits. It also is a vigorous exercise and isn’t for everyone, according to a University of Missouri Extension state fitness specialist.

 “It is unrealistic to one day get off the couch and decide to go out and run,” said Steve Ball, assistant professor of exercise physiology in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

 The first step is to determine medical readiness for a fitness program. Ball recommends taking the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), which can be found online. It is a series of seven questions for people who have not exercised in quite some time. If the answer to any of the questions is yes then it is important to consult a doctor before starting a fitness routine.

 “What most people do incorrectly is do too much too fast,” Ball said. “In that case, people become sore or injured and that is a big deterrent to exercise. The key is to start slowly and build intensity gradually.”

 Ball suggests beginning with a walking program and aiming for the ‘aerobic zone.’ Exercise should feel ‘somewhat hard’ to ‘hard’ and the person exercising should be able to have a conversation during the activity. If talking is barely possible, the exercise intensity is too difficult. For health benefits, Ball suggests 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise for five days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week. If weight loss is the goal, Ball suggests a longer duration, such as 60 to 90 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise five to seven days a week.

 “Prescribing exercise is not easy because you have to individualize it; it cannot be mass prescribed,” Ball said. “For some people, walking is vigorous exercise. For others, walking may become too easy and then they can start running. If weight loss is the goal, the intensity needs to be lowered so the duration of the exercise can be extended. A lower intensity also allows people to recover more quickly and ultimately perform more exercise bouts per week.”
 Running is a great cardiovascular activity that improves heart and lung function; lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and lipids; and helps the body become more insulin sensitive. The down side to running is that the possibility of stress fractures, joint issues, muscles strains or sprains, or tendonitis is increased.

“Every form of exercise has risks,” Ball said. “You have to determine what you can do for a lifetime. It also is important to remember that more health benefits come from going from sedentary to moderately active. So, walking for someone who was once sedentary is a great way to get started and still receive those health benefits. Running will take someone to higher levels of fitness, but might not be suited for everyone.”

 Stretching is a major component of preventing injuries, but often people stretch incorrectly, according to Ball. Never stretch a cold muscle; always warm-up first by doing at least five to 10 minutes of aerobic activity prior to stretching. Ball says the best time to stretch is at the end of the fitness routine when muscles are warm. It also is a good idea to switch surfaces and modes of exercise so certain muscles do not suffer from overuse. Do not always run or walk on a treadmill or outdoors. Change the routine and the mode to increase gains, decrease overuse injuries, and prevent boredom.