Want a healthy heart? Start by running

WASHINGTON — Nearly half of Americans are at risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the globe. And experts predict its prevalence will only continue to grow, eventually accounting for more than 23.6 million deaths per year by 2030.

But research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly one-fourth of cardiovascular disease-related deaths are preventable, and regular exercise plays an important role in reducing one’s risk.

In honor of American Heart Month, running coaches Julie Sapper and Lisa Reichmann are sharing some advice on how to get moving and ways to stay motivated. After all, a few miles a few times a week can go a long way when it comes to heart health.

Gear up

One great thing about running is that it requires minimal equipment to get started. Reichmann said a good pair of running shoes is really all you need — just make sure they’re a good fit. Visit a specialty running store to ensure you get the right shoe for your gait, and expect to invest about $100 in a pair.

Sapper said this time of year, moisture-wicking layers are also helpful on cold-weather runs. These days you can find great options at any retailer that sells athletic gear.

Start slow

Even if your overall goal is to run, expect walking to be a big part of the workout until you build your endurance.

“It’s really important, also, to start with run-walk intervals. You don’t want to go out and try to run two, three, four miles straight if you are just starting or if you haven’t run in a while,” Reichmann said.

“First of all, that can be discouraging because it can feel very hard. Second of all, it can lead to injury by doing too much, too fast, too soon.”

Both Sapper and Reichmann recommend the Couch to 5K running app as a useful tool for new runners.

Keep it conversational

There’s no need to sprint through the streets when you run. Sapper and Reichmann said the best pace is a “conversational” one, or a pace at which you can carry on a conversation with someone next to you.

“That is where we build our aerobic endurance … We can also run farther and a longer duration when we run at a conversational pace,” Reichmann said.

If you are running by yourself, a good way to check on your pace is to check in on your breath. Reichmann said your breathing should be heavier than normal during a workout, “but if you are getting breathless, slow it down a little bit.”

Don’t get discouraged

Yes, you will have bad runs, and true, you may never race at your high school pace again, but don’t get discouraged: “Progress is linear,” Sapper said, and it doesn’t happen over night.

“We like to tell our runners to find your reason why,” Reichmann added.

“Why are you running? Is this time for yourself? Is this to set a good example for your kids or your family? Is it to improve your heart health? Whatever your why, keep that in mind and let that continue to motivate you through the times it may be a little bit harder to get out of bed or get out for your run.”

Keep it up beyond February

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the biggest key to reducing one’s risk for chronic health conditions, and making exercise a part of your regular routine is part of the equation.

Sapper and Reichmann said finding a running partner or a running coach can help you hold yourself accountable and stay motivated. Signing up for seasonal races is another way to make sure you stay on top of training, and there are a number of options available in the D.C. area.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun and focus on the positives.

“Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy some rare moments of vitamin D in the winter, find a new route, explore a new area,” Sapper said.

“Finding those small ways to enjoy a run will make the process that much more fun and will make the run something to look forward to, rather than dreading.”

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