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Running Free of Injury

Whether you're a seasoned runner or just getting started, running can be a great way to be active and get fit. But, in your quest for exercise – or the finish line – be sure you don't run into an injury.

Injuries are more likely to occur when you begin running or significantly increase the frequency, intensity or distance of your runs. They also can happen when you don't take proper precautions. So, consider these tips to help you stay injury-free:

Start out on the right foot. Talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program or significantly increasing your physical activity. Also, get your doctor's approval if you're returning to running after an injury. If you get the OK to run, start out slowly. A rule of thumb is to increase your running time and distance gradually over several days and weeks. Don't put a week's worth of activity into a day or two.

Start and end each session the right way, too. Warm up for several minutes with a walk, then do some stretches. Stretch your Achilles tendon, hamstring and quadriceps. Hold the positions, but don't bounce. Stretch again after your run.

Avoid the pressure. Running puts a significant amount of force on the lower body - as much as two to three times your body weight. Do your legs a favor and try to run on flat, smooth and reasonably soft surfaces, such as a track, if possible. Use trails that have been specifically developed for running, if available where you live. Try to avoid running on concrete or up and down hills, which puts more stress on the knees and ankles. Due to the risk of injury, proper footwear is essential to absorb shock from running on hard surfaces. For more information, see the sidebar, "Choosing shoes."

Watch the weather. Running when it's very hot or cold outside can be hazardous to your health. In general, try to avoid extreme conditions. These tips also can help:

  • In cold weather, avoid frostbite by covering bare skin with a jacket, gloves and a hat. Don't forget to cover your neck, too. Petroleum jelly can be used on other exposed areas, such as the nose.
  • Dress in layers so you can stay warm, if needed, without overheating.
  • On hot days, plan to run early in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Check air pollution levels and don't run outdoors if there have been air quality warnings in your area.

Mix it up. Cross-training – which incorporates different types of exercise in your fitness regimen – can help you get stronger and improve your endurance. It also helps prevent injuries, since the variety of activities means you aren't stressing the same muscles and joints over and over. For runners, low-impact exercises, such as swimming and cycling, are great cross-training options. You can alternate days that you run with days that you do these other types of exercises. You can also cross-train within the same workout. For example, run for 30 minutes and then cycle for 30 minutes.

Whether you're training for a marathon or beginning an exercise program, don't forget to keep safety in mind. For instance, avoid running at night or on narrow, busy roads. If possible, use designated trails or tracks.

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