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Running as a tool, with benefits


ROUTINE RUNNING Ditch the car and walk or run to your local shop when you need a few groceries.


Paul O'Brien

Running should come as naturally to us at walking, sleeping or eating. We are evolutionarily and biomechanically built to run. In our early history, we developed our ability to run to gain an evolutionary advantage. This development, along with that of a bigger and more capable brain, gave us the edge we needed in our environment and took us to the top of the food chain.
We are still on top in most ways. Neuroscience is untapping the vast potential of our brains, and we are no longer surprised by feats of physical endurance and strength that emphasise the untapped potential of our bodies. Yet, where running is concerned, we literally seem to be going backwards.
Most people I know run very inefficiently. What’s more, running does not feel natural for most people. You run if you’re a runner, either competitively or recreationally. Very few people use running as a tool in the kit of everyday life.
Our modern sedentary lifestyles are, in part, to blame for this trend. We move far less than we did 50 years ago, spending more time sitting for work and leisure. Being the creatures of habit that we are, increased time sitting inevitably leads to more of the same. The consequences are dire. Over the past number of decades, we have witnessed worrying increases in conditions such as osteoarthritis and hip-replacement surgeries. The rise of obesity has led to further increases in movement disorders.
There is also a connection between our lack of movement and such mental/emotional conditions as depression and mood disorders.
Thinking about it from the body’s point of view, it makes sense. Our bodies are designed to move – run, jump, walk, climb and dance. When they do, they achieve their full expression and release a cascade of hormones called neurotransmitters. These hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine, are what we call the ‘feel good’ hormones.
Higher levels are present in physically active people. They are, in fact, messages from your body that it is happy – the language your body uses to tell you it likes what you are giving it. When your body is not happy, through increased sedentariness for example, it doesn’t produce many of these hormones.
In short, we are short-changing our bodies, our brains and our emotional wellbeing when we don’t move. What’s required is a new paradigm. We need to start looking for opportunities to make natural movement a more intrinsic part of our daily lives. Here are a few suggestions to start with:

  • Use the ad breaks when watching TV to dance, walk around the house or stretch.
  • Buy a backpack and start walking or running to your local shop when you need to buy milk or bread.
  • Jog or run to and from work.
  • Take your kids to a forest and climb trees.
  • Go out dancing with your partner.
  • Take time to play every day; use your back garden or a local park.

Yes, these are simple things. Perhaps they were once part of your normal routine, but you’ve ‘grown out of them’. But ask, what else have you given up with them? A future without movement as part of your daily routine is the road to early ruin. As always, it’s your choice.

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or