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Everybody knows the health benefits of running. It’s one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective forms of exercise out there, but it can also be pretty daunting — especially if you’ve never run a day in your life. The good news is that it’s never too late to start, and it’s also not nearly as difficult as it may seem. If you’re thinking about dusting off those running shoes, here are some tips to help you get started — and stick with it!

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Set achievable goals

An important thing to do when you take up running is to decide what you want to get out of it. Are you running for fitness? Weight loss? To take up a new hobby? Do you want to run a 5K, or would you be happy with running for five minutes nonstop? Whatever you’re hoping to achieve, taking the time to think about your goals can be a crucial first step in getting started and staying motivated along the way.

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Have realistic expectations

While goals can set you up for success, it's also important to moderate your expectations. Running a marathon is a great addition to your bucket list, but recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight. In fact, you might find yourself walking more than running in the beginning. Start with a more attainable goal, such as to finish a 5k, then slowly move up in distance and time goals. If you’re brand new to running, pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury, so it’s important to respect your body’s limits. Don’t expect to be good at it immediately; improvement, and even enjoyment, will come with time and practice.

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Get the right equipment

You don’t need much to start running, but one thing you do need is a good pair of sneakers. In this case, good doesn’t always mean expensive — you shouldn’t be spending over $100 on your first pair — but it's important to get a pair that fit your feet and the way you run. To make sure you get the right shoe for you, seek out the help of a professional by visiting a specialty store.

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Warm up to prevent injury

Like any form of exercise, it’s important to warm up a little before getting started, but make sure you’re not stretching cold. Stretching before warming up can actually put you at greater risk of injury, so save the static 30-second stretches for after your run. Instead, get started with a short, dynamic warm-up featuring bodyweight movements designed to get your blood pumping, increase your heart rate, and warm up your muscles. Jumping jacks and high knees are great warm-up exercises.

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Start at your own pace

When you start running, go at a pace that feels comfortable. If you’re reasonably fit and used to cardiovascular exercise, this might be a gentle, continuous run. If you’re just starting your journey into the world of running, alternating between walking and running might be the right technique for you. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation while running. If you find yourself panting and out of breath, then you need to slow your pace.

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Mix it up

Like any form of exercise, variety in your movements is key to building a well-rounded level of strength and fitness. To keep making progress, change up your routine now and then. This could mean varying your running route, taking your speed up a notch, or adding in some light interval training. If you usually run on a treadmill, try taking it outside once in a while. Maybe even consider incorporating some simple bodyweight exercises into your routine, like planking or push-ups.

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Slowly increase the challenge

The key word here is slowly! While we all want to see results, adding on too much too fast may lead to setbacks down the road. If you want to increase your speed or the length of your runs, do it gradually. Instead of pushing yourself further every single time you run, try adding on a mile to your run every week or two, and sticking to one longer run per week.

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Schedule it

Consistency is the key to establishing any new habit, and running is no exception. If you can, try to run on the same days, or at the same time each day. Even something as simple as listening to the same workout music can help create a routine. Running two to three days per week is enough for a beginner; as your fitness improves, you might increase that to four or five times. Make sure you’re scheduling rest days, as well — taking time off for your body to recover is just as important.

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Stay motivated

A great way to keep motivated is to use or build your support system. Run with friends, or look for running groups near you to find like-minded buddies. If you prefer to run alone, keep yourself accountable by telling other people about your goals. Signing up for a 5K or casual park run is another great way to stay driven and make running a little more fun. Using an app — or a diary, if you prefer pen and paper — to track your progress is another surefire pick-me-up for those days when you need a little extra encouragement.

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Treat yourself

Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself when you accomplish something! Whether it’s a relaxing bubble bath after a run, a pamper session on one of your rest days, or a special treat for achieving a larger goal, rewarding hard work is an important part of maintaining good physical and mental health. Working toward a reward can also be highly motivating.

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