Too bad the couch ranks consistently as such an enjoyable place to hunker down. Sometimes it’s a challenge to simply stand up and go to bed, never mind actually going outside for a run. That’s why inexpensive motivational exercise programs like Couch-to-5K, Run Coach, Ease Into 5K, Run Mate, Run 5K and others have become hugely popular in recent years.
These running programs, typically offered as apps for your smartphone, include well-designed schedules to help you create—and stick with—a running habit. Intended for newbies to go from zilch to running 5 kilometers in two to three months, the programs typically consist of three personalized 20- to 45-minute running/walking sessions per week.
Health benefits of running
Of course, there may be some initial discomfort as you work through the huffing and puffing, stitch-in-your side phase. To keep your enthusiasm level high, here’s a quick refresher on why running is worth the effort.
Running burns a gratifying amount of calories (about 100 calories per mile for a 150-pound person, which can equal more than 600 calories an hour), making it one of the more time-efficient workouts you can do. Research shows that running can also help prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes, boost your immune system and lower your risk of blood clots. Finally, running boosts your mental health.
A study published in February 2008 in the journal Cerebral Cortex showed that running helps the brain produce more endorphins (a feel-good chemical) and thus has a pronounced, positive effect on mood. Runner’s high, it turns out, is nature’s way of hard wiring us to like moving. A study published in the April 2012 issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that humans are designed, from an evolutionary standpoint, to exercise, in light of those neurological rewards that running induces.
Rachel Lawrence of Oceanport, N.J., a stay-at-home mother of two, discovered the Couch-to-5K (C25K) app accidentally one day while she was online. Her catalyst for wanting to start running? “I had walked a 5K, and I was one of the last ones to finish,” she says. “I knew I was out of shape, but I was determined to do better.”
Lawrence started by downloading all of the C25K podcasts onto her iPad. Her goal? To complete a new session every week. She loved how easily the program accommodated her schedule. “If circumstances intervened and I needed to repeat a week, I could,” she says. “I like how it talks you through, and lets you walk, especially in the beginning. It gave me a tangible feeling of accomplishment knowing that every week I could move on.”
The best newbie runner apps follow a similar gradual approach to running, make the user accountable and offer the opportunity to run to inspiring music. Sessions usually begin with a brisk warm-up walk, and stretching is encouraged before and after. Each week builds on the next, giving your muscles time to adapt to the demands.
Tips for making the most of running apps
- Don’t skip ahead. Even if a session seems too easy, think of it as good conditioning for your joints and muscles.
- Find the music you love. If you are not happy with the music provided, you can search the web for podcasts more in line with your musical preferences.
- Notice how exercise improves/changes your mood.
- Set small goals that build on your success.
- Make dietary changes that complement your new fitness regime.
- Make sure you have good shoes that you replace every 300 or 400 miles.
For Lawrence, C25K was just the beginning. She has now joined a running group and has completed several half marathons. Like others who have hauled themselves off of the couch, a life of potato-hood doesn’t seem such a viable option for her anymore.