As with any Chicago weather transition, we had several ‘teaser’ days in the last couple months that left us wanting more. When the sun starts shining more, it feels so good to get out and breathe in that fresh air. It invigorates us to be more active and soaking up that vitamin D just makes us feel happier. We feel refreshed and ready to take on new things, it’s easier to get up in the morning and get going. We may even start to feel like nothing could be wrong.
In some cases, we’ve been waiting to go running until weather improved. In other instances we may have been using our health clubs or home treadmills to stay active. Running outside carries different stressors, so preparing for this change in activity is important to keep you outside now that the weather is better. The last thing any of us wants after waiting so long for the good weather is to have a setback.
If you are getting ready to get out and take your first run (or likely you have, but you will be getting more consistent with this), there are a few tips to help make sure you have the best experience with minimized repercussions or issues thereafter. Take things one step at a time (pun slightly intended) and you will find your body much more amenable to the increased demands you intend to place on it.
Stretching and warm up
Warming up with walking before you start off running, helps increase blood flow to the muscles you are about to use, which means that they will receive more oxygen and nutrients during activity. This all results in a lower risk of injury from running. Other ways to warm up before activity includes squats, planks, lunges, pushups and leg lifts. Warm up time should be between 5 and 10 minutes before you start running to be most helpful.
Especially as we get older, our joints, tendons and ligaments seem to tighten up and get stiff more easily. Stretching is super important to prepare your muscles, tendons and ligaments for activity. Passive stretching decreases the tendon on attachment points on the bones which will reduce strain during the more dynamic part of your exercise.
When you stretch, this also makes you very aware of your body’s position and improves posture. Running injuries can often be avoided by having proper form, which starts with good standing posture. After exercise, stretching helps allow recovery of the muscles and reduces soreness that sets in from exercise. Managing tightness that starts when you get out there more helps to reduce injury.
Stretching your lower extremities (think hips, thighs, calves, feet) and back are especially important for running. Stretching your upper body may seem superfluous, but this really helps improve posture during running which reduces fatigue. Also, it is not impossible to experience upper body injury or pain from running. Stretching is a great way to prevent this.
I recommend stretching ideally before your other warm up activities and also a little bit after. There are some stretching exercises available at our office, but we have also made some videos that are convenient to watch on our website. In all honesty, stretching on non-running days is important too. Since this helps with recovery of muscles and tendons, it can reduce pain for that next run and reduce the risk of injury from future activity/runs.
One thing most of us do not have enough of us water. Staying hydrated is important for all of the cells in our body to function properly. That’s just for normal days, when our kidneys are filtering out toxins and when our heart is pumping blood through our bodies. Staying hydrated for regular, non-athletic activities is so important – just think about the toll it can have on our bodies to be demanding MORE of it, without providing water to all of those cells. Signs of being dehydrated include fatigue or tiredness, feeling light headed, having dry mouth or dry skin, urinating infrequently, having dark urine or urine that is strong-smelling. Some believe that you will feel hungry before your perceive that you are thirsty. Also, when you feel thirsty, you are already far behind on hydration.
If we aren’t well hydrated, our hearts have to work harder to maintain blood pressure for our activities. The harder your heart has to work, the more likely it will become OVERWORKED, which has serious complications. If you are running, you are likely interested in the benefits running has on heart health. Staying hydrated will ensure that the running you do isn’t hindering your heart’s health.
Staying hydrated is essential in regulating your body temperature.
With advanced age, our tissues tend to be ‘drier’ in a way. The lubricant within the joints decreases which results in more stiffness. The effect is similar within the muscles, tendons and ligaments. The more hydrated you are, the looser you should feel as the tissues will be better able to recover and will be more pliable if you will for your activities.
Water is essential in delivering nutrients to our cells in order for them to function properly.
It has also been shown that being well hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition and mood.
Our kidneys need ample amounts of water in order to more effectively flush toxins out of our bodies. This means that after running, our body is better able to recover by the assistance of hydration on promoting lactic acid output. Lactic acid buildup after exercise is a result of muscle breakdown (this is a part in muscle buildup) and excess lactic acid increased pain (called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS) and in extreme cases can result in lactic acidosis. This is a condition which results in weakness, abdominal pain, fatigue and even irregular heartbeat.
Drinking enough water also helps to suppress our appetite, which assists in weight loss. Sometimes a part of our goal with initiating a running routine is to lose some of that extra weight. If you run or increase exercise, this will result in increased hunger. Staying well hydrated will help to curb your appetite so that your caloric intake doesn’t increase beyond the appropriate proportion for the activity you have done.
Look at those shoes
Your shoes from last year, or even those months of inside exercise should get a once over before you start running outside in them. They may not look dirty or old on the surface if you have used them inside, but the mileage builds up the same. Having a good base of support and a shoe with ample shock absorption is key to reduce pain and injury in the feet from running. If the tread pattern on the shoes is wearing down, your probably beyond the timeframe that the shoes should have been replaced.
As a rule of thumb, if you wear your gym shoes frequently and/or are very active, your athletic shoes can be replaced every 3-4 months. If your gym shoes are used several times during the week, just for working out, you may be able to stretch that to 5 months. To get more technical, it is recommended to replace shoes every 300-500 miles. If you track your activity on an apple watch or fitbit, you may be able to tell from this measure.
Do you have enough support?
There many different foot structures that a person may possess. Some foot structures predispose a person to overuse of one part of their foot more than another. For instance, a person with a lower arch foot structure will often stress the big toe joint side of the ankle more than the other. This can lead to overuse and inflammation and tendinitis of a structure called the posterior tibial tendon. In high arched foot structures, the foot does not distribute weight as evenly during your gait cycle and this can results in excess stress near the big toe joint, baby toe joint and the outside aspect of the foot. This can also result in stress fractures.
Especially in cases where you have experienced foot pain in the past, custom orthotics in combination with a great running shoe is essential to reduce the likelihood of recurrence of pain or re-injury. Many of our patients can tell you that when they’ve had foot pain, the last thing they want to is go through that same pain again. The custom orthotics are the best way to reduce this chance. The reason for this is that custom orthotics optimize the foot structure to more evenly distribute weight and reduce wear and tear on the feet in general.
Don’t ignore those aches and pains
If you start running and notice pain, the important thing is to acknowledge that pain. It is not unexpected to have general muscle soreness that starts 1-3 days following an increase or change in your activities. This is due to lactic acid build up from muscle breakdown. Staying hydrated (see above) can greatly improve recovery after exercise by helping to flush lactic acid out. Feeling muscle stiffness is also not uncommon. That being said, if you are experiencing sharp pain, localized pain or you are limping or having difficulty walking, these should be red flags to address that pain. Running through the type of pain that is associated with a change in your gait (ie. Limping or compensating) can only lead to further damage, compensation and other injuries. If you’ve read ANY other blogs, you will have already ‘heard me say’ that the sooner you address pain, the sooner it can get better. The longer it goes unevaluated, the harder it is to get back to normal.
So please, enjoy responsibly! Get out there, get that vitamin D back up, let off some steam. Just be sure to proceed cautiously and give your body all it needs to help carry you through. If you do experience pain that doesn’t improve with stretching and staying hydrated OR if you have pain as the result of a misstep or injury, call sooner rather than later. We are here to help you achieve your goals and are happy to provide you with the tools and recommendations needed to get there.