Jogging and health

Since it began in the early 1970s jogging has become a widely popular method for ordinary people to get, and stay, fit. First, in the USA, where the craze emerged, then in Europe and elsewhere, millions of people have taken up the activity.

Jogging is merely a slow running pace, what used to be called a trot. It probably will not alone prevent disease – particularly heart disease – but carried out as part of a fitness-building programme, including per-haps altering the diet, it can help reduce obesity, a significant risk factor in many diseases. Jogging has other benefits too: it helps keep joints supple; it exercises tissues that often never get exercised in sedentary occupations; it exercises the lungs and heart in a regular and relatively gentle way; and it certainly makes people feel healthier, which must be a significant advantage in itself. Indirectly, it probably encourages a better mental attitude towards health, also. On the negative side, however, as non-joggers are quick to point out, it can also harm bones and joints by regularly jarring them each time a foot hits the hard surface of the road.

The exercise you need – and what it achieves

From about the age of 20 onwards, your body becomes steadily less efficient at using oxygen. The less exercise you take, the greater the burden you carry and the more unfit you are. If you lead a sedentary life, you probably are not aware how unfit you are until you have-to carry heavy parcels or do some gardening. Without exercise you will often feel tired and probably be overweight. Your heart and lungs will probably be working quite hard anyway at keeping you functioning, and any extra physical work puts a strain on your system which, quite quickly, makes you feel tired and uncomfortable, if not exhausted. Jogging is an aerobic or oxygen-burning activity which improves your leg and other postural muscles. It also benefits your heart and lungs, your blood and your mind. Besides strengthening your muscles, jogging improves the blood vessels known as capillaries which supply the muscles with oxygen-carrying blood. As a result, your heart pumps blood around your body more efficiently, each intaken breath is fuller and deeper and the amount of air you take in is greater, and your tissues get better at metabolizing lactic acid, the end-product of muscular activity that collects in unfit muscles and contributes to the painful condition of muscular stiffness after exercise. Jogging makes you hot. To rid the body of that heat, your blood carries it from the muscles to the skin – just like an engine’s coolant fluid – so that it can be cooled. Jogging will help you train your body to carry out this process with greater efficiency; you will be better at utilizing smaller quantities of oxygen, so more blood will be available for radiating heat. The spin-off benefit to everyday life is that your resting pulse rate drops, your heart has to do less work when not taking exercise and, when you do have to push yourself harder, your systems can cope. By reducing physical stress, jogging also alleviates stress’s companionmental strain.

None of these changes occur overnight but they can be encouraged to happen gradually through training programmes, the only sensible way to jog.

Your training programme . If you are over 30, and haven’t taken physical exercise for some time, see your doctor, so that he or she can declare you fit to train. . The secret of jogging is to build up the amount you do slowly, so that after six weeks, say, you can jog for about 10 minutes without exhausting yourself. . If your greatest physical exercise has been walking to the car each day, begin your first week’s programme by just walking three kilometres, say, twice a day. . If jogging is going to benefit you, you do not want to have to stop doing it for a few days because the last session was too exhausting. . By week two, you can begin jogging but do not try to jog for a full 10 minutes. Jog for a minute, walk for a minute, jog again, then walk again, and so on. . Do not push yourself too hard so you have to stop suddenly, because cramps may result, which will stop you from jogging the next day. . Use a digital watch with an alarm to time yourself, otherwise time your jogging and calculate the distance you cover in your head. . Each week gradually increase the amount of time you spend jogging, but remember not to stop suddenly. . It may take you longer than six weeks for jogging to become effortless – do not worry, because you will begin to feel the benefits of jogging, such as the greater ease with which you walk up stairs, or run to catch a bus, sooner than this.

Clothing and footwear

Despite the wide variety of designer jogging outfits and high-priced footwear available, all you will need is any kind of tracksuit in winter, a light teeshirt and shorts in summer and modestly priced light running-shoes (without spikes) to protect your feet from ‘road shock’, the long-term effect of running on roads.

Injuries caused by jogging

No sport is without its minor injuries. Too much jogging-induced road shock may result in jarring and compression of your spinal cord and nerve roots. This is caused by your feet landing heavily on the road during jogging and the resultant force being transmitted up your legs into your spine. Though serious, it occurs only with excessive exercise; wearing well-cushioned shoes is one way of reducing its chances of happening to you. The only other problem is blisters; there is not much you can do about them except wear comfortable socks inside your shoes. Blisters should not arise if you take your exercise gently and slowly to begin with.

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