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From Couch to 5K - - Archived

Potato to pavement, one step at a time

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For those who aren’t accustomed to regular exercise, starting a new exercise plan might seem like a daunting prospect. The key is to start slowly and deliberately with manageable initial goals. It’s easy to begin with lots of enthusiasm, but a common pitfall is losing that good feeling when the reality of strenuous work sets in.

By setting realistic objectives from the outset of a new fitness program, we can build morale by achieving small but consistent victories. It’s fun to see hard work produce measurable progress, and this is what makes going from sitting on the couch to running a 5K (3.1 miles) one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

There are several “couch-to-5K” programs available, and all share a process of daily, incremental increases in the level of effort. The most common is a smart-phone app called—you guessed it—Couch to 5K.

Couch-to-5K programs generally start with brief walks, followed by longer walks, then short jogs, and so on. In the early stages, there are short rest periods inserted between workouts. It can be so relaxing, you may forget you’re exercising once your body gets used to the new physical exertion. The main idea is not to push yourself so hard that you get frustrated, or worse yet, injured. That sort of hard work can make infrequent exercisers give up on a program. Couch-to-5K programs use a “boil the frog” approach to turning up the heat, so to speak, allowing you to see measured progress along the way without noticing things are getting hot.

The secret to the effectiveness of these kinds of programs is gently re-familiarizing yourself with how your body reacts to exercise. At no point do you experience a steep increase in the effort you’re expected to put forth. If you can walk, you can do this. You set the deadlines and limits involved. The goals are your goals, and can be anything from achieving the ability to walk for a few minutes without feeling fatigued to becoming an ultra-marathon runner. It’s never too late to get into a new habit. Take those famous words to heart—and make the first step into a new future for you and your health.

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