Olympic track and field athletes are highly trained and conditioned to avoid injury. But for everyone else who runs regularly to stay in shape or get fit, injury-free running is more of a challenge.
One clinical study after another has confirmed that regular aerobic activity — which can range from brisk walking to jogging to running outside or on a treadmill — can add years to your life, prevent or reduce heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. And regular exercise can help prevent many cancers as well.
As part of a major study of lifelong exercisers  last year — which included runners and brisk-walkers — researchers found that those in their mid-70s who have been active for most of their lives have similar cardiovascular health as 40- to 45-year-olds.
“The biggest takeaway of these reports is that physical inactivity is the greatest threat to our health,” said Michael Swartzon, M.D. , primary care sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute . “It’s not surprising that these studies prove that physical activity helps reduce risk factors for musculoskeletal conditions, cardiovascular disease and potentially fatal diseases.”
All sports activities require proper stretching exercises and warm-ups, along with proper hydration throughout the course. But running can be especially tough on joints, muscles and overall health from repetitive impact. Always consult with your physician before starting a running program, particularly if you have underlying health issues such as high blood pressure.
Here are 5 tips for healthy, injury-free running:
1. Avoid Doing Too Much, Too Soon
They are referred to as the “terrible too’s” — doing too much, too soon and too fast. The body requires time, rest and proper nutrition for sustaining a regular running program. If you are training for long-distance running, such as half-marathons or full marathons, then muscles and joints need to recover throughout a typical six-month training program.
2. Proper Hydration/Nutrition
South Florida is notorious for its heat and humidity and runners need to take extra care in staying properly hydrated. Learn how to measure your “sweat rate ,” which is based on the amount of liquid your body loses after an hour of exercise. By calculating your sweat rate, you can better evaluate what you should drink to replace lost fluid and help avoid injuries. Long-distance runners need to replenish calories and they need more carbohydrates than most people.
3. Listen to Your Body
Most running injuries, commonly involving knees, the feet, the Achilles heel or the hamstring, don’t appear suddenly. They usually provide slow-developing warning signs that should not be ignored. Normally, these red flags include aches, soreness or a persistent pain. It’s up to each runner to heed the signs and see a doctor before serious injury develops. If signs persist after proper rest and ice/heat treatments, a physician may recommend physical therapy.
4. Get the Right Running Shoes
Don’t underestimate the importance of the proper running shoes, especially for long-distance runners. An estimated 15 percent to 20 percent of running injuries involve the feet. Plantar fasciitis, small tears or inflammation of the tendons and ligaments from heel to toes, is usually the No. 1 foot complaint among runners. Those runners with very high or very low arches are more vulnerable, so the properly-fitted running shoes are vital for distance athletes. There is no single shoe that is best for runners. You should find one that best supports and fits your unique feet.
5. Monitor Progress/Set Goals
Detailed workout logs and periodic goals can keep you from those overuse injuries. Keeping a journal of how you did and how you felt during each run can help you determine if a trip to the doctor is necessary. For example, you may notice during one weekend run that your knees started aching. If the ache worsens, you then have a precise record to share with your doctor regarding the start and duration of the pain. Monitoring progress and setting realistic goals are important tools for both avoiding common injuries and keeping motivated.