Where to start? Here are a few of the best reasons we can think of to try running.
- Running is relatively cheap and easy. You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment and you can run anywhere that it’s safe to walk.
- Running can increase your fitness because it raises your heart rate, giving your heart muscle an effective workout and improving your blood flow. And not only is it good for your heart’s health, but it also reduces your risk of stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.
- Running is a great way to manage your weight. In combination with the right diet, it can help you lose excess weight and keep it off.
- Running, along with other weight-bearing exercise, helps to build bone strength and reduce your risk of breaks (fractures).
- Running, in fact any physical activity, is good for your mental health. Not only can it lower your risk of depression but it also improves your self-esteem and how well you sleep.
- If that’s not enough to convince you, how about the fact that running is a free mode of transport? It could save you money and means you have no traffic jams, late trains or crowded buses to worry about.
A benefit of running is that pretty much the only essential equipment you need is a suitable pair of trainers. For starters, make sure they fit properly. That might sound obvious, but many people wear shoes that are too small for them, so they may rub or cause blisters. And remember that running is a high-impact activity and can put a lot of strain on your feet and joints. So look for a pair of running shoes that are cushioned to help with shock absorption.
There are lots of types of shoe to suit different running styles. If you’re just starting out and haven’t invested in running shoes before, it’s probably worth going to a specialist shop where staff can advise you. Plenty of places do this now – you might be asked to run on a treadmill so they can see your running style. If you have an old pair of trainers that you’ve used for running, take them along. Looking at where your trainers are worn down can help identify how you run.
You may well hear the term ‘pronation’ being used. This is your foot’s tendency to roll inwards when it hits the ground which acts as a cushioning mechanism. But if you have ‘flat feet’, meaning the arch of your foot is low, they may roll in too much when you run. This is called over-pronation and can lead to injury, so having ‘motion control’ trainers to correct this may be helpful.
On the other hand, it may be that you have high arches in your feet and under-pronate when you run, which can reduce shock absorption. You may find that shoes with extra cushioning to make up for this are helpful.
When choosing your shoes, you might want to think about where you’ll be doing most of your running. Will you be running mainly on roads and treadmills? Or are you planning to run off-road, in fields and on trails? There are different types of shoe to suit different surfaces, so chat to whoever is advising you about what’s available.
Once your running style and preferences have been determined, you should be offered a few pairs of suitable shoes to choose from. Make sure you try them out before you buy – ideally you’ll be able to get back on the treadmill or run up and down outside. Try not to be swayed by fashion! Your shoes need to be comfortable and give you the right support.
Start off running short distances in your shoes to break them in – it’s not a good idea to buy new shoes just before a race. Advice varies as to how often you need to replace your running shoes. In general, think about getting a new pair once you’ve covered 400 to 500 miles, otherwise you may risk injury.
One other thing to mention is barefoot running – or almost. You can now buy running shoes with no cushioning or support which are designed to reflect running without any shoes. Running ‘barefoot’ appears to affect the part of your foot that you land on when you run. But it isn’t known whether this means you’re more or less likely to get injuries than if you wear more conventional trainers.
Whether you’re an experienced runner or just starting out, having the right clothing will help you to run more safely and comfortably. But there’s a bewildering range of sportswear available, with labels full of technical jargon, so we’ve got some sensible advice about what’s what.
As we’ve already said, one of the great things about running is that you don’t need a lot of specialist gear. Once you’ve found a pair of shoes to suit you, you’re pretty much ready to get going. That said, most women would probably agree that a comfortable, well-fitting sports bra is also an essential.
Keep your safety in mind too. If you’re running in the dark or poor light, make sure you wear clothing that you can be seen in. Choose light-coloured clothes, but also think about investing in something with reflective or fluorescent strips so that traffic can see you clearly.
Although you don’t need lots of high-tech kit and can run in pretty much anything, some clothing will be better than others. It’s up to you how much you want to spend on getting kitted out. Thinking again of your feet, there’s a huge range of socks on offer making all sorts of claims. Some are designed to reduce the risk of blisters or give extra cushioning; some even say they can improve how well you run. It’s up to you if you want to try these out, but all you really need is a pair that fit properly.
One thing to bear in mind is that it’s generally recommended that you don’t wear cotton socks for sport. Cotton will absorb sweat but then it stays wet; a synthetic ‘wicking’ fabric will draw moisture away from your skin.
The clothing you wear will depend to some extent on how much running you plan to do and when you’re going to do it. But also on what you feel comfy in and how much you want to spend. Cotton clothes are cheaper but remember that they will soak up sweat and stay wet, so they may feel heavy and clammy. You can buy lightweight cotton, which suits some people fine.
Wicking fabrics are an alternative to cotton. These are synthetic and draw the sweat away from your skin so that it can easily evaporate. These ‘technical’ clothes often have other features – mesh inserts for ventilation for example – but of course these tend to be more expensive.
Layer up in colder conditions – maybe two or three layers that you can peel off as you warm up. You might want to try a vest with something long-sleeved over the top – perhaps even a jacket or fleece as well if it’s very rainy or windy. Or try arm warmers if you just want a single layer for your arms. There’s no right or wrong – comfort is important.
All the same things apply for your bottom half. Shorts come in lots of sizes and fabrics, as do leggings – full-length or three-quarter, fleece-lined, with or without pockets. So whatever the weather and your preference, there will be something to suit you.
Although there’s some argument over just how much heat we lose from our heads, in general wearing a hat when it’s cold makes us more comfortable. And it’ll help to keep you dry if it’s raining – something to bear in mind for those chilly, winter morning runs.
The motivation of even the most enthusiastic runners may fail occasionally. We’ve put together some tips to help keep you going whether you’re training for a specific race, or running for your health and enjoyment.
- Find a running buddy. It can really help to have someone – or even a group or club – to run with, especially if you’re training for the same race. You’ll have people to congratulate you on good runs and encourage you when things don’t go so well. And not wanting to let your running partner(s) down may help you to keep going.
- Mix it up. Keep your training interesting by varying your runs – try different distances and routes. What about having a go at speedwork or fartlek training, where you alternate fast and slower paces throughout a run.
- Keep a diary. This is especially good if you’re new to running. Note down how far you run, how long it takes and how you feel. Or use a running app or watch to record not only those stats but also your heart rate and calories burned. It can all help to keep up your motivation. Then, whenever it starts to wane, you can look back, see how you’ve improved and be encouraged to carry on.
- Set goals. Like keeping a diary, these can help you track your progress. Make sure you keep them specific and achievable. Be realistic about what you can do or you leave yourself open to feeling demoralised if you don’t reach them. You could start off with aiming to do a free Saturday morning 5km parkrun – these take place all over the UK.
- Start active, stay active. Heart health. Department of Health, July 2011. www.gov.uk
- Moderate exercise: no pain, big gain. Medscape. www.medscape.com, published March 2006
- Caring for your feet during sport. The Institute of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. www.iocp.org.uk, accessed 23 April 2015
- Selecting and effectively using running shoes. Running style. American College of Sports Medicine. www.acsm.org, published 2011
- Sports injuries – basic principles. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/doctor, reviewed January 2014
- Buchen L. A softer ride for barefoot runners. Nature (news) 2010; 27 January. www.nature.com. doi:10.1038/news.2010.36
- Socks and your feet. Socks: hosiery – essential equipment for the athlete. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. www.aapsm.org, accessed 4 June 2015
- Head cover in the cold. BMJ 2008; 337:a2769. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2769
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
Produced by Polly Kerr, Bupa Health Content Team, August 2015.
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
- Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road