But I can't run because...

We debunk four of the biggest issues that keep people from running.


by Sam Murphy
Illustration by Sam Island

1/ I’m too old

You can reap the health and wellbeing benefits of running at any age. A recent University College London study found people who began to exercise in their 60s and 70s still gained significant health benefits. Just ask Sandra Bridger, who took up running at 66 and says she feels more alive than ever. Or Charles Eugster, who only began at 95 and now holds multiple world records in his age group. And while there are certain conditions – such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or a serious heart or lung condition – that might affect your ability to run, they don’t necessarily rule it out. Movement is medicine, provided it’s delivered in the right dose.

2/ I’m too embarrassed

Feeling self-conscious about exercising outdoors is understandable, particularly if you’re not entirely comfortable with your body, but ask yourself this question: do you look at others when they are running? Probably not. You’ll find people are generally far too busy with their own concerns to notice you as you run by, and they sometimes may turn out to be more supportive than you would expect. Remember, everyone had to start running at some point.

If it helps, try a preemptive strike. Confronting embarrassment head-on worked for RW reader Amanda Phillips. She had a T-shirt printed that said ‘Fat Bird Running’ on the back and she told us (in August last year) that the responses she got were unanimously supportive. If you’re not ready to be so direct, there are options: other readers have told us that when they first started running, they’d go early in the morning, or after dark. Later, they felt confident enough to go out at other times. Alternatively, finding a friend or group to join you on this programme is a great way of overcoming embarrassment, and can also help everyone stick with it and make the whole experience more fun.

3/ I’m too overweight

Too many people say ‘I’ll start running when I’ve lost weight.’ Which is a shame, as running is a powerful weapon in the battle against the bulge. RW reader Annette Johnson made full use: ‘At first, I was so heavy I couldn’t jog so I had to power walk,’ she told us, having shed five stone. ‘But soon I was able to mix short periods of walking with jogging.’

When Cuban researchers assigned overweight women to thrice-weekly jogging sessions for eight weeks they not only shed pounds, but also lowered their blood pressure and improved their cholesterol profile and waist-to-hip ratio. Research from Aarhus University, Denmark, shows the best way for heavier new runners to avoid injury is to keep total distance low in the early stages, and to increase it by no more than 10 per cent per week – the gradual progression that you’ll find in our First Mile training programme.

4/ I’m too unfit

Our First Mile plan is far cry from the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra beloved of old-school PE teachers. This is a gradual journey in which each step builds only a little on the last. It’s all gain, no pain.

Worried you’ll be worn out? A review of 70 studies, published in Psychological Bulletin, concluded that exercise boosts energy levels and reduces feelings of fatigue. But don’t even think about running non-stop on your first few outings – this is something to work up to. Change won’t come overnight, but if you stay committed you’ll see great changes over the next few weeks.

Now that's all cleared up, here's how to get started with your First Mile.


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