The Key to Healthy Running? Keep Moving

A woman stretches before a run

We hear it all the time: Sitting too much is problematic for our bodies. Even if you run regularly, you must get up and move intentionally throughout the day in order to counter the effects of a sedentary day.

Whether you’re stuck in an office or a car, regular sitting for hours at a time can cause changes in the body’s metabolism and ability to process insulin, leading to increased risk of type two diabetes, weight gain and high blood pressure.

Many runners are active enough to keep their weight under control but find that a mostly sedentary work day seems to pair itself with chronic running injuries. How can this be? Why isn’t it good for us to run hard and then let our bodies sit at rest for the remainder of the day?

A group of runners stretches before a workout

Sitting Exacerbates Overuse Injuries

Wesley Miller, physical therapist at AntiFragile Physical Therapy, works with injured runners daily. The majority of his clients are runners with overuse injuries from overtraining without proper recovery. Take, for example, a runner who puts in hard daily runs, then goes straight to the office to sit for hours with little movement.

The body is always working to adapt and heal itself, Miller says, but it can only work with the position that you put it in. If you sit for hours after finishing a hard workout, your muscles and joints can become inflamed. While seated, your quads and hamstrings get tight, and problems can develop all over.

So, how can you make the best of it if you’re a runner with a desk job? Miller gives two suggestions: Prioritize recovery and move more frequently, as opposed to logging one long session of movement.

The key to recovery is to hydrate and then allow that fluid to move throughout the body. Massage tools can help. These strategies increase blood flow and lymphatic circulation to flush waste products out of muscles and connective tissue, Miller says. If you have a choice of getting up once a day for one 30-minute walk or moving more frequently for water and trips to the printer, choose the latter.

As the body heals the soft tissue that’s damaged from overtraining, scar tissue or adhesions form in connective tissue. This can bring about a reduced range of motion, muscle weakness, pain and compensation patterns that cause imbalances and injuries in other parts of the body.

Train for Proper Movement

Imbalances in the body can promote bad running habits—ones you probably don’t realize you’re forming. Many injuries come from running more and more miles without taking the time to move properly.

Human brains are great at learning, even if it is learning how to move incorrectly. When you run with a hurt hamstring, your brain compensates and works other muscles to get by. This will compromise your form, affect shock absorption and cause injury. In the book “Running Rewired,” author Jay Dicharry says that we must treat running like a skill and practice skilled movement in order to run better.

In order to move better, you need to use your brain’s neural plasticity—its new connections from one cell to another as you learn—to turn efficient movements into reflexive movement that doesn’t require conscious thought. You can do this by practicing complementary movement patterns.

In order to run at your best, complementary movement training is essential. It’s common to think of running drills or strength and mobility workouts as cross training, but this training is more about skill and moving properly, which makes you a better runner, according to Dicharry.

Your brain saves energy by using central pattern generators (CPGs) to send signals to make you walk, breathe and do other regular movements that you don’t have to think about. Any movements that you practice all the time start to become habit that doesn’t require focused brainpower. Your brain will develop patterns of moving your body that feel healthy and normal while you may actually be limping or moving in a way that is asymmetrical and can cause problems down the road.

Many injuries begin when muscles are inhibited, or “unplugged,” and don’t get the signal to engage. Because muscles work as a group rather than acting in isolation, it’s important to train full movements rather than simply isolating muscles on a machine at the gym. Going through these movements with precision, skill and regularity will train your brain to use these muscles to help you run better. As Dicharry says, this is what you want on race day when it’s time to save all your energy for performance rather than thinking about efficient form.

Three women running together on a trail

Move Intentionally for Running Longevity

Don’t be discouraged by overuse injuries or the stats on sitting—just make a commitment to move more and move better.

Dink Taylor, owner of Fleet Feet Huntsville in Alabama, has been running for more than 40 years and has completed hundreds of races, including marathons and ultra marathons. The biggest secret, he says, is to “keep moving.”

He credits his longevity in the sport to regular movement and strategic care. Once he passed the age of 50, he started to warm up his muscles with an Addaday massage stick before each run. He visits a chiropractor regularly, gets a massage twice a month, and does everything he can to keep his muscles loose and mobile.

Move More Throughout the Day

It’s hard to feel like you have control at the office, but prioritizing movement can be easier than you think. Propose walking meetings to your boss or colleagues. When you make a phone call, do it while you go for a walk.

A group of people running together

Drink water, and get up to refill your cup, and to answer nature’s call once it works its way through your system. Park far away from the building and give yourself an extra chance for a walk. You get the picture. It just takes intention. You may even influence your workplace to adopt a more active culture.

Add Variety to Your Training

Protect yourself from overtraining by switching things up. The most common running injuries are caused by repetitive motion. Bodies need a variety of movement, but many runners neglect cross training out of a desire to hit higher mileage, a lack of time or lack of interest. Cross training makes things more interesting! Go for a bike ride, a hike, a swim. Try rock climbing. You’ll make yourself stronger and spice up your life.

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