Doctor Is In: Advice for runners

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR)- As the temperature gets more comfortable, more people are running outdoors. KPLR's Doctor Is In, Dr. Sonny Saggar, gives advice for runners, especially those who haven`t really run much since childhood.

If you`ve never run before, don`t worry, because the best way to begin running is to walk. According to Dr. Saggar, regular walking strengthens the muscles and tendons so your body can better handle the impact of running.

He says your best bet is to gradually build up to 30 minutes of brisk walking two to four times a week. Most previous non-runners should be able to reach this goal in two weeks. Absolute beginners at running can then run for 5 to 10 seconds out of every minute, walking the rest of each minute. Gradually, the run:walk ratio will naturally increase as your muscles strengthen and your joints adjust, and your heart and lungs get more efficient and conditioned.

Even in the beginning, when the bulk of your time is spent walking, you`re still getting a pretty good workout. Walking can be great cross-training. Without even planning for it, you will naturally increase your run:walk ratio gradually, where you alternate between 3 to 5 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. Keep up that cycle for 30 minutes, and perform the workout up to four times a week for three weeks.

If you`re feeling good by the last week, bump up the run segment to say 9 or 10 minutes, with 1 minute of walking. You can keep the one-minute walk break indefinitely (many serious runners do), or shift to 30 minutes of continuous running.

Run Smarter, Not Farther
Some runners obsess over distance and brag about how many miles they cover. I don`t really care how far my patients run. What I care about is how efficient you`re training your heart to become, so I just want to know about time. How long you sustained a faster heart rate, on a daily or on a weekly basis.

Generally speaking, you can safely increase your total running time by  5 to 10% each week.
I have patients who are running 60 minutes a week, some 4 hours a week, and others who are still walking and planning to get into actual running soon.

Ramping up the time or your speed too quickly can lead to frustration, bruised egos or worse, injury, so keep these runs at an easy, conversational pace.

Faster running puts added stress on the musculoskeletal system (your ligaments, tendons and other connective tissue), so you want to develop endurance before you work on your speed. Building up slowly at a manageable pace allows your body to acclimate to the activity.

Don`t go for speed or distance. Go for time and endurance. The goal should be to have fun running, not a horrible, painful time. The more often you run for fun, the more efficient you`ll make your heart and muscles, and the more endurance you will develop for speed and miles later on, but let it happen to you. Don`t force yourself and have a horrible time of it.
If you`re huffing and puffing at the end of a run, you`re overdoing it and you need to scale back.

Run tall, Run relaxed
Running with good posture puts less stress and impact on the joints, which reduces injury risk and increases efficiency, meaning you can run longer with less exertion. While running, keep your chest up and your shoulders down. I often find that a simple shoulder roll will instantly convert you into the correct posture.

Your feet should land underneath your hips, positioning your body in a straight line from your head to your toes. Avoid leaning forward from the waist, which can tax the lower back. You`re not running the 100 meters in the Olympics.
Keep your hands unclenched to prevent unnecessary tension.

Because running is forward motion, if your arms swing across your body, energy is wasted; so tuck your elbows into your waist and your arms will naturally move forward and back. Finally, listen for the sound of your footfalls; if they register heavy, try landing more softly.

After you become comfortable running, you`ll want to find new ways to keep your workouts fresh and interesting.
Explore new routes, climb hills or intersperse short bursts of faster running into your 30-minute routine.
Joining a running group is also a strong motivator -- one that comes with big benefits. You`ll have other runners to commiserate and celebrate with, no shortage of training advice, and people available to answer questions you might otherwise be afraid to ask (Like nipple-bleeding, runners diarrhea, running during menstruation or pregnancy). They`ll also have knowledge about local races.
Whether you`re running in a pack or on your own, be sure to take care of your body after your runs. Some new runners stretch their hamstrings then call it day. I recommend dynamic stretching (quick stretches) BEFORE  a run, and static stretches (where you hold the stretch for 20 seconds) AFTER the run.

Running shoes are specifically designed to handle the impact forces produced when you run. What type of shoe is right for you will depend on various factors, including your body weight, how often you run and the height of your arch.
New runners should head to a specialty running store and ask the staff for an evaluation. An experienced shoe salesperson will evaluate your needs and make footwear recommendations for you. The best shoe is the one that fits well and feels good as you run.

KPLR`s Dr. Sonny Saggar is:

● Medical Director of St. Alexius Hospital Emergency Department
● Internal Medicine Faculty Member at St. Louis University Hospital
● Founder of, which includes all the St. Louis Urgent Cares locations in Downtown, Eureka, North City and Creve Coeur.

You can also connect with Dr. Saggar, the Medical Director at St. Louis Urgent Cares, and ask him any questions you like
via STLHealthWorks.COM, or
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