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Run for your life
Fauja Singh (in foreground) shows no signs of slowing down even at 99

Last Sunday, when most of you had probably just woken up, I was running the Chennai half marathon with around 8,000 others. For me, a 58-year-old grandmother, age is certainly no bar. The only constraints are the few male louts on the road who stare, pass comments or snigger.

Children run simply for the joy of it, but in older individuals regular running confers specific health benefits. And all you need is a pair of shoes and socks.

Running (not walking) is one of the easiest ways to lose weight. An hour of this activity uses up around 500 calories. A negative balance of 3,500 calories results in loss of half a kilogram. The body metabolism also perks up, becoming more efficient. What’s more, the calories burnt while resting also increase. If running is combined with a sensible diet, appreciable changes can be seen in the weight and shape of your body in a month.

While running, the blood vessels expand and contract at three times their normal rate. This improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of a stroke and heart attacks.

No one wants to look old. When you run, the muscles and bones are activated. This strengthens them, reducing the risk of weakness and osteoporosis. Running makes you fit and look young without the side effects of plastic surgery and botox.

Everyone would like to be happy all the time. Since mood-elevating drugs are illegal, and alcohol is not advisable, the easiest way to achieve this is to get a “runner’s high”. Mood elevating endorphins are released while running. Around 40-45 minutes of running elevates the mood and prevents depression for the whole day.

While running, the individual has to focus on the road, forgetting the problems of home and work. This relieves stress.

In students, running increases concentration and gives a feeling of accomplishment. Running does not reduce the time available for studies. On the contrary, it freshens the mind and builds stamina. An athletic student can study more effectively than a sedentary one.

While running we often find that roads are uneven with rocks, potholes and other hazards. Concentration, co-ordination and balance improve as a runner negotiates these obstacles. The person develops excellent control over his or her body.

The improved blood supply to the heart and lungs makes runners less prone to infections and illnesses. Even when illness strikes, recovery is quick.

People often fear that runners suffer more knee and hip injuries than others. This, however, is a myth. To get the maximum benefit from running with minimum injury, the muscles should be warmed up with a few stretches and five minutes of slow walking. Also, attention should be paid to increasing the body’s core strength. This can be achieved by doing push ups and holding the “plank” pose.

For those who have not run for many years, there are several techniques to get started. The “10 steps walk 10 steps run” routine is simple. After a week, you can increase to 20 steps run and 10 steps walk. Eventually, over a period of time, you can run the entire hour.

Couples can sometimes be seen walking in the mornings. The man is properly attired in track pants or shorts with shoes. But the woman is often seen struggling, thanks to her voluminous sari and chappals. It is better to wear a salwar kameez or track pants. You need not worry about derogatory comments from neighbours and passers by. As your health improves by leaps and bounds, diabetes and hypertension get controlled, and depression lifts, you will cease to care about popular opinion.

Shoes are important. The soles should be supportive and fitted properly. Repeated impact on the hard ground can cause heel pain, especially in an overweight individual. Slippers are dangerous as the feet can slip out while walking fast. The slipper keeps hitting the back of the heel. This isn’t very comfortable and can result in injury.

Age is considered a deterrent to running, again a fact proven wrong by the oldest marathon runner (distance: 42km) Fauja Singh (born 1911). He started running at the age of 63 and shows no signs of slowing down even at 99. The oldest female marathoner is Ida Mintz who ran till she died at the age of 85. She started running at the age of 73.

So forget all ifs and buts and start moving. Run towards health and happiness.

Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. Questions on health issues may be emailed to her at yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in

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