How Running Can Help You Psychologically

imagesWe all know running can boost your fitness, help you lose weight and create a stronger heart. But did you know running can assist you in other ways?

In a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), a simple 30 minutes on a treadmill can lift the spirits of those suffering from major depression. They took 40 participants and divided them into a control group and a group who walked for 30 minutes on a treadmill. All were recently diagnosed with major depressive disorder. They then took surveys before the test period and at 5-, 30-, and 60-minute intervals after their half-hour periods of rest or exertion.

Only the group who exercised noticed a positive change in feelings.

In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that a daily morning running routine improved sleep and psychological functioning. Researchers used 51 participants assigned to either a running group or a control group. The running group went running every morning for 30 minutes at moderate intensity during weekdays for 3 consecutive weeks. Researchers measured sleeping patterns in both groups.

Results showed the running group had improved sleep and stayed more positive throughout the day.

A 2007 study in Physiological & Behavior showed that running releases the same neurochemicals as taking drugs. And obviously, it’s a whole lot healthier.

So even 30 minutes a day can help improve your move and help you sleep better. It also follows the American Heart Association’s recommended daily activity.


Juicing for Your Summer Diet

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

With the half the country supposed to be under a heat dome this weekend, you may find yourself lacking energy and/or the motivation to run. Although the days remain long, sometimes you can’t muster the desire to workout when the temperatures take their toll. Here are a few ways to keep your energy high throughout the dog days of summer:

Start with green juice. You’ve seen the health enthusiasts drinking their green juices and there’s a reason: They provide loads of vitamins and minerals and many find they can lose weight by adding them to their diet.

Try this recipe, which is the simplest I’ve found:

3 cups water
2 cups spinach or kale
3 cups of fruit–watermelon, mango, pineapple, apple, banana or any combination

Pour three cups of water into a blender, then add the greens one cup at a time so the blender doesn’t get overloaded. Then add in the fruit at the end one cup at a time. Enjoy.

Keep moving. If you work in an office, add in 15-minute walks into your calendar. At most offices I’ve worked, people keep an extra pair of running shoes under their desks and slip them on for regular walks. It can also be a way to stay social if you invite work colleagues to join. In the summer, it’s best to do this in the morning before it gets too hot and you ruin your nice work clothes or try the stairs in your building if they are cool enough. But treating your walks like meetings, you’ll more apt to do it.

Keep peppermint oil nearby. If you stare at a computer all day or like most people, at your Smartphone, peppermint oil helps with headaches triggered by staring at the screen all day.

Eat every three to four hours. If you don’t have the energy to cook, try variations of juices such as the one above or bring nuts and fruit in small packets to make it easy and accessible.


Plyometrics for Runners

cornstockIt’s good practice to add in some plyometric drills to your workouts. This keeps you moving in a multi-planar fashion and gives you a total body workout, keeping you lose and strong (just like the soccer players).

What are plyometrics?
They are movements with high velocity, nicknamed the “stretch-shortening cycle.” You stretch your muscle before an explosive contraction, such as jumping.

Take note:
Research even states good jumpers are better 5Kers.

Dr. Jason Karp, a coach and exercise physiologist recommends these drills to boost your overall running ability:

Box jumps: (These are my personal favorite and popular among CrossFit enthusiasts.) From the ground, jump with two feet onto a 1-foot tall box, and then immediately jump into the air and back down to the ground. As you improve, try jumping with one foot at a time.

Bleacher hops: (Great for an addition to track practice.) Stand at the bottom of the bleacher steps on one leg, hop up the steps. Walk back down and hop up again on the other leg.

Single leg hops: (You might see someone doing these at the local gym.) 1) On one leg, hop up and down; 2) hop forward and back;  and finally, 3) hop side to side.

Squat jumps: With hands on hips in a squat position, jump straight up as high as you can. Upon landing, lower back into a squat position in one smooth motion and immediately jump up again.

Proper Running Form

Goodshoot 1Should you stand up right? Should you lean forward? We’ve all questioned what is the best, most efficient form for running.

In a study published in Gait & Posture, Dr. Stephen Preece and his team decided to find out. They compared the forward lean of 14 elite runners vs. 14 hobby runners. He tested the runners at four different paces—from 8:07 to 4:47 per mile—and found that the elite group maintained a lean of about 3.5 degrees across all speeds, while the recreational runners increased their lean to  eight degrees at the fastest pace.

He determined that a small lean, maybe three or four degrees is the best. Using more increases your usage of glutes and back muscles, which you don’t want.

In addition, an abstract presented by researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine in Boston said that postural lean can make you a more efficient runner. They used 16 runners capable of running a 22 minute 5K and had them run on a treadmill with a lean of 0 degrees,  4.18 degrees or 8.34 degrees. There was little difference between the first two conditions, but the 8.34-degree forward lean caused a four to six percent worsening of running efficiency.

The conclusion? Upright is best.

How to run upright:

Head: Keep your head held up and look at the horizon rather than looking at the ground. You see most runners only looking down. Keep your head up and this will help you stand up straighter.

If you feel yourself slouching, take a deep breath in and straighten your shoulders.

With your head up and looking ahead and your shoulders low and loose, your torso and back naturally straighten.

Keep them loose and close to your body. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist and fingers touching your palms.

Have someone videotape you, even with just a smartphone. You can analyze how far you bend and try to work at straightening. This will not only make you faster, but work your body less harder and give you better endurance.


Post-Race Recovery

race-day-720x288Got summer races on your calendar? Follow these post-race recovery tips:

Don’t stretch after a race. Static stretching can actually do more harm than good by damaging your muscles.

Stay away from massages right after the race to avoid making your inflammation worse. This is contrary to what I’ve always been told–you want a massage to cleanse your body from lactic acid, but it’s best to wait for that nice massage for a couple of days.

Muscles repair typically at night, making protein the perfect food to eat before bed. Try eating a handful of nuts, a protein shake or even some tuna the night after a race.

Keep walking after you finish. While all you want to do is sit down after running for hours and hours, it’s best to keep moving your muscles or all the blood can pool in the legs.

Sleep. I didn’t consider this. I know 48 hours before the race is the best time to get a good night’s sleep to help you through the race, but sleeping after the race also benefits in helping your body recover. Try taking a nap as soon as possible and sleeping a couple of extra hours a night. You’ll relax the body and let it repair the muscles quicker.

Eat. This shouldn’t be too hard–you burned the calories and now you should replace them. Eat a meal with a mix of carbs, protein and vegetables for dinner the same night as the day of the race. You’ll need to feed your muscles so they can properly heal. While you want that burger with fries because you feel you earned it (which you did), try waiting just a couple of days to celebrate with bad calories. Your body is in a fragile state post race and you need to take care of it.

Happy race day!

Hydration for Runners

Marathon Hamburg 2006Runners all face dehydration issues. We sweat it out for long periods of time and it is often difficult to quickly replace lost water and sodium. You can do a few tests to determine if you are dehydrated:

Urinate. The darker the pee, the more you need to drink. Your urine should be either clear or a light yellow. It can change, however, if you are taking supplements. Start watching your pee color within hours of taking vitamins and you can know what is normal.

Use your skin. Test your hydration by pinching your skin on the back of your hand and holding it for a few seconds. If the skin stays up, you are dehydrated.

Look at your fingers. You know that pruned skin you get when you take a long shower or bath, that can also happen when you are dehydrated. Your skin won’t look as plump.

Check your breath. If you have bad breath and this is not normal, you may be dehydrated. Your saliva starts changing because it is thirsty, causing bad breath.

Sitting in front of a fan. If the temperature is more than 95 degrees, you are better off finding somewhere where there is central air conditioning. Don’t just sit outside and blow a fan on your face. This is because when the air is that hot, it’ll mix with the fan and just blow hot air at you. This will make you hotter and not help with allowing your body to cool down and rehydrate itself quickly.

What to do in the summer when the weather is hotter:

-Avoid caffeine, which acts as diuretic
-Avoid sugary drinks like lemonade and Kool-Aid
-Avoid hot beverages that will make your body temperature rise
-Avoid alcohol, which dehydrates you
-Drink two liters of water a day. This is hard, but if you keep a water bottle with you at all times, it’ll be an in-your-face reminder to keep drinking.

Sugar and Runners

copy-cropped-cross-country_1.jpgWe’ve all seen the commercials touting high fructose corn syrup as bad for your health. But there’s even more sugars to be aware of when you’re shopping at the grocery store.

Research has shown that sugar doesn’t act much differently than other carbohydrates for blood glucose control. Many runners try to avoid sweets, but they still consume sugar more than they think. On average, we eat 22 teaspoons of sugar every day, roughly 350 calories per day.

Try spending time looking at labels for ingredients such as the following:

Evaporated can juice
Cane sugar
High-fructose corn syrup
White sugar
Granulated sugar
Brown sugar
Invert sugar
Maple syrup

For runners, think about switching some of these out every so often. It’s very challenging to do it all of the time, but a few changes really adds up:

Sports drinks. These are very beneficial for electrolytes and sodium, especially after a long run. They can replenish what’s lost due to sweat. However, for shorter runs, try just using water only.

Protein shakes. Many store bought protein shakes come with loads of sugar. Try blending your own using fresh fruit or substitute the shake with peanut butter or eggs. They go down easy on a stomach that’s been jumbled by running.

Cereal. Even the boxed cereals touting health and high protein can come laden with sugar. Be sure the read the label. Try substituting breakfast with steel cut oatmeal and fresh berries to add taste and texture.

Yogurt. This is great to eat after a run–you get protein and it’s easily digestible. Just read the labels for anything labeled from the above list.

English muffins. If you are craving carbs, which runners often are, try eating whole wheat toast instead. You can even add on peanut butter for the protein, but try to avoid jams loaded with sugar.


Runner’s Injuries

ankle sprain, painWe’ve all experienced some type of runner’s injury throughout our running lives. Whether it’s something small like lactic acid that disappears after a few days or something major requiring surgery, we all suffer for our sport. Here are a few running injuries and what you can do to prevent them:

Runner’s knee:
This is aching around the knee cap usually from overuse. Any sport that requires bending or jumping is subject to experiencing runner’s knee.

How to keep this from happening: Strengthen your hip muscles and work on balance exercises. Hit the gym to do some hip flexor strength movements and try adding in yoga to your workout routine. Yoga provides some helpful balance exercises while using your own body as weight.

Shin splints:
This occurs when you have pain in the front or inside of the lower leg. It often occurs when you run too much or for long periods of time. It can be quite painful.

How to keep this from happening: Incorporate stretching after every run. You should take 5-10 minutes to stretch and hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Research shows that anything over 30 seconds isn’t necessary, but anything under and you don’t get a full good stretch. You can also take an anti-inflammatory pill if you find yourself in too much pain after a run.

Stress fracture:
This occurs when you have a small crack in a bone that causes pain and discomfort. In runners you usually find it happening in the feet because that’s what hits the ground.

How to keep this from happening: When you can, run on softer terrain, such as a track or on soft trails. If you do have a stress fracture, you must stay off your feet until you heal.

This happens usually from overuse.

How to keep it from happening: Wear socks to keep your feet from rubbing too much on your insoles. Also, break in your shoes slowly. Don’t go out for a 20-mile run when you just bought a new pair. And make sure you have the proper sized shoes always.

Hyponatremia: What Is It?

Although summer doesn’t officially start until June, Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of this season. This means temperatures will rise over the next few months and you will need to start including more hydration when running. If you live in a hotter area of the country, you need to understand hyponatremia and what it can do to your body.

What is hyponatremia?
Hyponatremia is a condition that can occur when the sodium level in your blood is too low for it to function properly. This can occur because you drank an excessive amount of water. Also, if you have an excessive sweat rate and you lose too much sodium.

When you become hyponatremic, your body’s water levels rise and your cells start to swell. This can even become life-threatening.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea, vomiting, headaches, loss of energy, constant fatigue, weakness, restlessness, spasms and cramps. Careful: these symptoms are similar to overtraining as well.

Who is at risk of hyponatremia?
Runners who drink too much water during marathons, ultramarathons, and other long-distance workouts can suffer from hyponatremia. Also, older adults and those taking medications such as thiazide diuretics as well as some antidepressants and pain medications are at a higher risk level.

How do you fix hyponatremia?
Fixing hyponatremia is quite simple: cut back on how much water you drink during a workout. Switch to a sports drink to keep your body full of electrolytes and sodium, but also don’t over do it. You’ll still find water in sports drinks. Also, be sure to replenish your body with sodium, adding in a sports drink during and after a long run. You may even want to add in salt tablets to your workouts if they last longer than an hour. Just pop a pill every hour or so to keep you from losing too much sodium.

Running through the trails

RunningInRainAs the weather gets better and the days are now almost at their longest, we like to turn our running to the trails instead of always heading to the track.

Here are a few trail running tips:

1. You might want to invest in a trail running shoe or a hiking shoe in general. Running through the dirt and mud can quickly destroy your expensive, beloved running shoes.

2. Always make yourself aware of the trail beforehand. With the Internet, you can most likely do the research of what to expect in terms of elevation and turns within the trail itself.

3. Always carry your cell phone. While we don’t like the extra weight when running, this is for safety reasons. Granted, you might not have cell service, but if you are out alone, it’s best to stay on a trail near civilization.

4. Run through the mud puddles. This may seem counterintuitive, not to mention dirty, but this helps with the erosion process as you will stay on the trail.

5. Keep one earphone out in case you like to listen to music. This will allow you to hear any other runners/mountain bikers who want to pass or any potential dangers.

6. Rehydrate when you return home. This is especially important in hot water. You lose one liter per hour of exercise. On the trail for three plus hours? You’ve got a lot of water to drink. You should also mix it up with sports drink to replenish lost electrolytes.

7. Let someone know you are leaving, where you will be and when you are expected home. A quick text to a friend is all it takes.

8.  This should go without saying, but keep the trash with you. We know how annoying it is to carry an empty gel package or empty water bottle, but it harms the environment.

Happy trail running!