So, is running mainly for men? Not at all. Women were first officially allowed to compete in the Olympics marathon only in 1984 because, till then, people (read men) felt long-distance running was definitely not feminine. Of course, women have not looked back since.
Many more women now run in the marathons across the US and Europe. The 5K and 10K runs also have sizeable numbers of women participants all over the world, and now there are several “women’s only” running events.
Women runners’ needs and issues vary, from teenage girls needing to deal with menstrual cramps and dieting issues to older women with pregnancy and those in their 50s with menopause.
Teenagers struggle with developing their self-image, and runners cope better than their sedentary counterparts. Additionally, bone mass and density build till the age of 35 and running and other exercises help teenage bones absorb calcium and other minerals and get stronger and healthier. Activity in these years helps the body build insurance for later years and protects it from, or delays, the onset of osteoporosis. Excessive dieting in the teen years can, at times, upset things and it is critical to ensure that the diet is healthy and balanced.
Running helps in keeping oestrogen levels steady and even helps reduce menstrual cramps. In case of severe cramps, check with your doctor for OTC medication or calcium and magnesium supplements so that you can manage the cramps and start running. This helps reduce stress and strain for teens.
Vegetables, whole grain and fruit are a must. Good sources of calcium are milk, leafy green vegetables and orange juice. Thirty minutes of running every day is also good during pregnancy as it helps ease back pain, tones the body, reduces constipation and is even known to ease delivery.
Post-pregnancy, it is important that the intensity of the run be lower than before pregnancy and, as always, your body is your best doctor. If you get short of breath, slow down or stop. It is always best to talk with your doctor and work out a simple exercise plan.
Eat often and eat smaller meals as you also have to cater to a growing baby, rest and sleep well, and take more walking breaks in your run. You can buy an elastic maternity belt for better support (these can also be ordered from www.supportsockshop.com) and must use a more supportive sports bra (www.mothersinmotion.com) besides keeping yourself well hydrated and cool.
Post-delivery, take your time to get back on the trail, and maybe try a treadmill in a more controlled environment to start with. It is reasonably safe to start running after four weeks of a normal delivery and 10-12 weeks after a C-section.
Women runners tend to face menopause a few years earlier than non-runners and their more sedentary counterparts. However, this is the time to alternate easy and hard days and also do some weights or work the machines in the gym to build muscle and bone density.
For older women in their 60s and beyond, check out shoes and then hit the roads, interspersing running and walking. This will lower the chances of diabetes, heart conditions and even arthritis— so, actually benefiting rather than damaging your knees. Remember, there are several women runners aged more than 70, in several countries.
Apart from these basic guidelines, women should take some additional care while running in India:
1) Preferably run in a group or at least with one or two companions.
2) Include a man in your group where possible.
3) Run in a public area/garden as opposed to forested paths.
4) Try to run in the mornings not the evenings.
Be a role model
Remember that adults run for fitness and kids run for fun. Keep this in mind and you will be on your way to successfully getting kids to join you.
Kids have a short attention span and are also focused on a payoff or treat at the end of the session, so breaking up the runs with playing a game of catch, frisbee, walking, a picnic etc., can make for a fun and energizing outing.
Or, include a conversation during the run and try to get them to slow down. Kids have so much energy that they want to start off at a sprint. See if you can hold them back and start chatting with them, keep up with positive strokes and encouragement and remember the focus here is fun and not competition.
This will also get them to build up an appetite, which should be satiated with healthy meals rather than the junk food they crave for.
Most importantly for parents, set yourself as a role model for the child to learn from, and to see that running can be fun.
My daughters went on their first one mile run when they were seven and five, and for their first 5km run a year later, which they ran with their grandparents. That was quite a fun outing and now they take part in any 5K or seven-mile run that happens near where we live.
Getting kids interested in running, and associating it with fun rather than a chore to be suffered with a parent, is critical to a longer term love for running in the child’s mind. Go out with their friends, enrol them with friends in the next 5km run that happens in your city, treat them after the event, and see how much they enjoy the whole thing.
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Rahul S. Verghese is director, Global Consumer Insights, Motorola