What Motivates People to Start Running? The Survey Says ...

Run held at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Team Minot families participated in a color run at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 17, 2018. More than 100 individuals ran the course that consisted of six color stations spanning the two, five and 10 km routes. (Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force photo)

During the pandemic, the running population increased significantly as people sought ways to focus on their physical health. People went outside to run in fresh air or chose a treadmill to work out in their homes. New runners were getting in the miles and losing or maintaining weight, but, unfortunately, most people did not increase physical activity during this period of isolation.

On the bright side, many people remained or became active over the past year. RunRepeat recently published a study about the running boom during the pandemic and found that the motives for running are changing. Physical health is the primary motivation for 72% of new pandemic runners, up 18% from the reasons given by runners who started before the pandemic.

There were other motivations, but none came close to the goal of becoming fitter and healthier to combat the effects of a potential COVID-19 infection. Running also may have gained popularity, because gyms closed or people had more time on their hands due to a new work and commuting situation.

The fact that healthier people tend to fight off the effects of the virus better than unhealthy people with comorbidities is a clear reason for this new choice of fitness. Investing time into this endeavor could not be more important than it is this year, since the health benefits of cardiovascular fitness help with the comorbidities that many of us have.

When gyms closed, the options for fitness decreased to walking, running, biking and calisthenics for everyone who did not have a home gym or pool. These new runners were not looking at competing in future races. In fact, most were doing this new activity alone or with family members to avoid crowds. The study shows that almost 25% would consider participating in a future race. More than half said they are using running not only for their physical health and well-being, but their emotional and mental health as well.

Physical fitness is important in fighting any disease that we encounter. Running can be a viable option for most of us and isn't just for those who like to do marathons or for military members who need to pass fitness tests.

As with any physical activity, building up to full strength is the smart method for beginners. The bike-walk-run can be the best way to begin, especially if you have some weight to lose. By starting off with a non-impact cardio option and then walking, your knees, shins, feet and back will thank you for not jumping into running right away.

Don't Like to Run? No Worries

Cardiovascular fitness comes in many forms. Many will find joy in activities such as running or walking, but those who despise running often prefer to get their "cardio" from lifting heavy weights, calisthenics, yard work or manual labor. Your heart and lungs work when you do these activities. It's simply different from the sustained work of running or walking and uses different energy systems. Many also prefer less impactful cardio options, such as biking, rowing, elliptical machines, stair steppers, paddleboarding or swimming.

It's a good idea to diversify your activities, so you not only prevent getting bored with the same activity, but also so you gain experience burning calories at varying intensities by working your body's energy systems.

For instance, new runners should consider having a few days of steady-paced running to work on your distance, progressing each week to a new, comfortable distance. As you progress, try running intervals where you run fast, then catch your breath with slower jogs or walks for a given time. A good place to start is to run fast for 30 seconds and walk or jog for one minute for 15 minutes.

With a warm-up jog and cooldown jog or bike, you can get a good 30-minute workout in and burn more calories than with a long, slower distance run. Another day can be devoted to learning what your mile pace is. If you want to run an eight-minute mile, practice 400- and 800-meter distances at the two-minute and four-minute pace, respectively. Then try to hold it for multiple miles as you progress with your distance.

In the End, Burn More Calories Than You Consume

If you want to maintain your current weight, the goal is to burn an equal number of calories that you consume, given that you naturally will burn anywhere from 1,500-2,000 calories a day, depending on your sex, size and age.

If you want to lose weight, the activity you perform each day needs to burn more calories than you consume. You can do this by adding more activity or reducing calories. Running is a great way to accomplish this daily burn. However, discuss reducing calories with a nutritionist or dietitian as you could be missing vital nutrients when reducing portion sizes or by getting on a diet that eliminates macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein). As we age, most of us need to do both as outworking your diet becomes more challenging once we get over 30-40 years old. Regardless of how you do it, good job and keep moving. See you on the trails.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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