How to go from your couch to a 5K

This article is part of a series in collaboration with ParticipACTION. Discover how "Everything gets better when you get active!"


Want to get back in the game when it comes to your physical health this spring? Start by lacing up your sneakers and going for a brisk five-minute walk. To maintain overall health, adults are advised to get 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week, and a regular walking or jogging routine can go a long way toward achieving that goal. The rewards of making that brief investment of time (an average of about 20 minutes of heart-rate-boosting movement a day) are great. Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of illness such as heart disease and stroke as well as improved cognition and greater life satisfaction.

How do you get moving?

Before you start, know your why. What’s the primary reason you want to get moving? Is it to soak up some of the feel-good hormones that come from physical activity? Or is it to improve your physical health? Focus on your reason why you want to get active and keep it in sight so you can track your progress.

Pace yourself

Think slow and steady when it comes to getting moving again after an inactive spell. Walking is an ideal way to start building up an active habit. Try and keep a brisk pace when you walk so that your heart rate is elevated and you’re feeling a bit sweaty (two sure signs you’re in the moderate-to-vigorous zone). Start small and build up the amount of time you walk by 10-15% each week.

Walk before you run

Walking can be a great way to help you make a smoother and more enjoyable transition into running. In fact, most beginner running programs use a walk-run training model where you walk then run in alternating short bursts. Start with a five-minute walking warm-up, then transition to a one-minute run or jog, then walk for two minutes and switch back and forth in this way for up to 30 minutes. Over time, you’ll increase the amount of time you run versus the amount of time you walk, eventually going from a warm-up to straight run or jog.

This staggered approach to building up your running stamina is not only a good way for non-runners to start a running routine, it’s also a neat way to get back into running if you’ve taken a long break.

If running is not in the cards for you, you can still take an interval approach to tuning up your stamina and aerobic capacity. For example, you could adapt the run/walk intervals to walk slowly/walk faster.

What you need to start:

A doctor’s OK

If you have a history of health issues or any concerns about your ability to start the program safely, it’s wise to consult your doctor before beginning.

A good pair of running shoes

Invest in a pair of supportive athletic shoes designed for running. Most stores or online shopping sites organize their shoe selection by activity, so it’s relatively simple to view a selection of shoes suitable for running. It’s good to have your foot properly sized in a store by a clerk, but if that’s not possible, spend some time browsing and be sure to read the description of the shoe. Some brands fit smaller or larger, and some are better for wide feet or thinner feet. Additionally, many running shoes are designed with certain types of strides or types of arches in mind.

Runners World offers a pretty comprehensive shoe buying guide that even takes you through what kinds of shapes and materials to look for. But don’t get too caught up in the technical specs - if the shoes feel good and are comfortable, then they’re probably the right shoes for you. 

Consider the surface you run/walk on

Running for the first time in a while (or ever) can result in some mild aches and pains at first. Do yourself and your joints a favour and look for a running track or area that has a surface with some give. A rubber running track is ideal, but if there’s not one nearby, consider running on asphalt or dirt as better alternatives to pounding your way along a concrete sidewalk.

Eat and hydrate before you exercise

When it comes to fuelling up for exercise, think about consuming a small snack rather than a big meal. Tuck into a healthy snack that consists of protein and a simple carb (think natural peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat bread, for example) about an hour before you lace up. Hydration is key, too - it’s wise to have a glass of water about an hour before you hit the trail.

 


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