Spring is finally here and you can finally get out of the gym running under fluorescent lights and enjoy the sunshine outside. Studies have shown that spending time in parks can calm the mind while changing the way the brain works in ways that improve mental health.
The good news is that it usually doesn’t take long to adjust to your new natural running environment, according to Matt Fitzgerald, runner, author coach and nutritionist. “You may feel a bit awkward and uncoordinated at first but that is balanced by the enjoyment from being outside,” he says.
“Running on a treadmill is biomechanically different,” Fitzgerald adds. You run at the same speed under the same conditions for a certain period of time. Outside, subtle changes in speed happen subconsciously and you deal with possible factors such as changing temperatures, wind or dirt.
1. Stay away from high traffic areas
Research shows that running outdoors close to high traffic areas is not a good idea. “Runners breathe in exponentially more pollutants,” Fitzgerald adds. In a way, you are exercising in polluted air which can negate the positive cognitive effects of working out.
While running, people take deeper and more frequents breaths, which increases the air pollution intake – athletes running at an easy running pace for about three hours inhale the same volume of air as a sedentary person in two days.
Take the car and drive to a park if you don’t live near one, Fitzgerald says, so you can run without worrying about your lungs.
2. The 10-percent rule
Don’t ramp up your weekly miles by more than 10 percent a week, Fitzgerald says. This is not a scientific fact, he adds, but it’s a general rule of thumb. Don’t ignore it as the vast majority of running injuries are the result of overuse.
Also, you don’t want to increase your mileage every week, he adds.
3. Apply the “step cycle”
This is when you don’t run more miles every week after week. You need to go through a recovery phase every 3-4 weeks, Fitzgerald says. “That helps ramp up your mileage over the long term.”
For example, run the one week for 20 miles if you are a beginner. Run 25 miles the following week and then go back to about 15 in the third week. You will feel the difference.
4. Run new routes
“Research shows that athletes perform best when the intended focus is external,” Fitzgerald says. You think about the task at hand, where you are and what you’re doing. “You’re not worrying about your arms, feet or how you feel,” he adds. This is a good reason to change your running paths every once in a while. Don’t allow yourself to get bored.
5. Add variety
There are many ways in which you can introduce variety in outdoor running, Fitzgerald says. “This will certainly make it more enjoyable.” You’ll be much more likely to stick to it as a result.