Get running with Couch to 5K

content supplied by NHS Choices

Taking up running can seem like a scary prospect, especially if you feel out of shape or unfit.

But, did you know that regular running can help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, boost your mood and keep your weight under control?

The Couch to 5K plan is designed to get you off the couch and gradually work you up to running 5K or half an hour, in just nine weeks.

What is Couch to 5K?

NHS Choices 'Couch to 5K' is a running plan developed to help absolute beginners get into running. The beginners' running plan was developed by a novice runner, Josh Clark, who decided to write a plan to help his fiftysomething mum get off the couch and start running too. The plan involves three runs per week, with a day of rest in between, with a different plan for each of the nine weeks. Scroll down to find out more and see how the running plan works.

How does Couch to 5K work?

Probably the biggest challenge a novice runner faces is not knowing how or where to start. Often when trying to get into exercise, we can overdo it, feel defeated and give up when we’re just getting started. Couch to 5K works because it starts with a mix of running and walking, gradually building up your fitness and stamina slowly. Week One involves running for just a minute at a time, creating realistic expectations and making the challenge feel achievable from day one. 

Who is Couch to 5K for?

Couch to 5K is for everyone. Whether you’ve never run before or if you want to get back into being more active, Couch to 5K provides you with a cheap and easy way of getting fitter and more healthy. If you have any concerns about beginning an exercise regime such as Couch to 5K, make an appointment to see your GP and discuss it with them first.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of getting into running can be endless. For starters, it’s an easy way of improving your physical health. Running regularly will improve your cardiovascular function, making your heart and lungs healthier. It can also help you lose weight; especially if combined with a healthy diet.

There is evidence it may help increase bone density in some people, which can help guard against osteoporosis.

Perhaps the unexpected side-effects are the mental benefits of running. Taking on the challenge of Couch to 5K can help boost your confidence and self-belief, as you prove to yourself you can set yourself a target and achieve a goal. Running regularly can also be a great stress reliever and has even been shown to combat depression.

What are the Couch to 5K podcasts for?

NHS Choices has developed its own set of Couch to 5K podcasts to help you on your way to achieving your running goal. The podcasts features a narrator, Laura, who guides you through the session, explaining when you need to run and when it’s time to walk.

The podcast also features music that's designed to motivate you through the workout. The podcasts are designed to take you on three runs per week, leaving at least a day of rest in between each run. There is one podcast for each week of the plan – except in weeks 5 and 6, which feature three individual podcasts. This is because weeks 5 and 6 act as transitional weeks, which aim to progress you from a mix of running and walking into running for longer blocks of time.

How do I get started?

STEP 1: Download the NHS Choices Couch to 5K podcasts from here for free. Instructions will be given to you and once downloaded and you will be able to listen to them on your iPod or even just your mobile phone if it has MP3 capabilities.

STEP 2: Think about when you’re going to run. The best way to ensure you stick with your running plan, is to plan carefully how to fit Couch to 5K into your day. Busy days at work? Perhaps you could set your alarm clock a little earlier and run first thing in the morning, or even in your lunch break. If you have young children to sort out in the mornings, maybe you could plan your run when they’re at nursery. Or, how about strapping them safely in the pushchair and taking them with you?

STEP 3: Plan where you are going to run. For example, if you already have a gym membership then you could run there. Another good option is to run outdoors. You’ll get some fresh air, can take different and interesting routes and, perhaps best of all, it won’t cost anything. You may want to look at a map in order to plan your route first, so that you can more easily concentrate on running. There are lots of great websites out there to help you with this, such as realbuzz and MapMyRun.

STEP 4: Think about safety. If you are planning to run outdoors, bear in mind that when wearing headphones you may be less aware of your surroundings. Watch out for other pedestrians, keep your eyes peeled for cyclists and take extra care when crossing the road.

STEP 5:What are you going to wear? The most essential piece of kit is a pair of running trainers, available from any good sports store for as little as 30. While this isn’t essential, it will reduce the chance of getting injured, which can threaten your Couch to 5K success. See ‘Getting Started’ for advice on what to look for when buying new trainers.

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