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Running tips for beginners

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Running has many health benefits, such as improving your heart health and mood, and helping you to sleep better.
  • Running for as little as 10 minutes per day can improve your health.
  • It is an affordable and convenient form of exercise.
  • Beginners of nearly any age can start running.
  • If you have an illness or injury, see a doctor for expert advice before you begin.

What are the health benefits of running?

Mental health

Many people run to clear their mind, reduce stress or improve their mood. When you run, your body releases endorphins. Known as the ‘feel-good’ chemicals, endorphins can improve your mood and reduce pain.

Heart health

Your heart is a muscle and the more you exercise it the stronger your heart gets. When you run your heart rate goes up, and over time your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood. Running for as little as 10 minutes per day can improve your health. If you can safely increase this to 30-45 minutes per day, 5 days per week, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by one third.

Weight management

Any vigorous (high intensity) sport such as running can help you to manage your weight by burning energy (kilojoules), especially when combined with a healthy diet.

Bone health

Running is a weight-bearing sport. This means the weight of your body on your bones makes them stronger when you run. It reduces your risk of fractures as you get older.

Who is running best suited to?

Running is great whether you are new to exercise or want to increase your fitness.

It is affordable and convenient. You can run almost anywhere. Special equipment is not needed to run — other than suitable running shoes. You can do it in your own neighbourhood.

You can run to connect with others. There are running groups for people of different ages and fitness levels. It can be a great way to make friends.

Do I need to see my doctor before I start running?

If you are new to running, you should see a doctor for a check-up first — especially if you are over 40, have a chronic medical condition, are pregnant, or if you are recovering from an injury or illness.

Running is an impact-loading exercise. If you have a health condition where high impact exercise on your bones or joints may be a problem, see a health expert first. Ask your doctor or exercise physiologist if running is the best way for you to exercise.

  • If you have asthma, you do not need to avoid running. It is important that you stay fit. If you find that running causes your asthma symptoms to flare up, your doctor can tell you how to adjust your asthma medicines before you run.
  • Pregnant women should aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each week. If you are new to running or have pregnancy health problems, you should check in with your doctor first. When running, the ‘talk test’ can help you check that you are not placing too much strain on your body. If you can maintain a conversation while exercising, you are doing well. If not, slow down a little. If you experience any pain, abnormal vaginal discharge or contractions while running, stop immediately and contact your doctor.
  • Health professionals encourage most people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to exercise — and running might be a good option. If you have damage to your larger joints such as your knees or hips, your doctor may advise that you choose a sport that limits the force on those joints. Ask your rheumatologist or doctor if running is the right sport for you.
  • If you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk of foot ulcers. Take good care of your feet, including selecting the right shoes. A diabetes podiatrist can help you with foot care and shoe selection.
  • Some hormone treatments for breast, prostate and bone cancer can put you at an increased risk of bone fractures. If you are receiving treatment for cancer, first check with your oncologist if you should run.
  • You may need your running program adjusted to suit your body if you are recovering from injury or illness.

How do I start running safely?

One of the great things about running is that you can do it any time, almost anywhere and for as long as you like. But for some people, this lack of structure may seem overwhelming. Start by setting goals — begin small and increase your distance or speed gradually. A pedometer (step counter) can help you monitor your progress.

While running can be a solo sport, you do not have to do it alone. There are many running groups or mobile phone fitness apps that can help you get started and plan routes that suit you. Try the parkrun program or Couch to 5k for programs for beginners.

  • Wear supportive shoes and comfortable clothes that will not restrict how you move.
  • Warm up and cool down before and after each run.
  • Drink extra water in the hours before and after running. Take water with you running if possible.
  • Do not overdo it. Gradually increase your pace and distance but by no more than 10% per week.
  • Let your body rest for 24–48 hours between each run. You can try another form of exercise such as swimming or cycling on ‘rest’ days.
  • Include different forms of exercise in your weekly training program, such as flexibility and strength training.

Make your personal safety a priority. Tell someone where, and for how long, you are running. Take your mobile phone with you and choose a well-lit route if running at night.

If you experience severe pain or breathlessness — even after you have cooled down — contact your doctor.

What equipment do I need for running?

Running does not need expensive equipment or access to facilities.

You should wear good, supportive shoes designed for running and your foot type. When choosing a pair of running shoes for the first time, get a professional fitting. If you have an old pair, take them along to help the salesperson find suitable shoes for you.

Wear light clothing, sunscreen and a hat to protect you from the sun. If you are running at night or early in the morning, wear reflective clothing so drivers can see you. If there are no streetlights, a head torch will help you see the path in front of you.

How do I avoid injury while running?

Always wear closed shoes and plan a route that has wide, smooth footpaths.

When your foot lands on the ground, your ankle should stay in a neutral position and not roll to the side.

How do I stay motivated while running?

Try these options to stay motivated:

  1. Set fitness goals. This will remind you of why you started running and motivate you to keep going if your interest decreases.
  2. Find a running partner, coach or mentor. This could be in person or on a mobile phone app.
  3. Try to mix up your routes. Changing the scenery every few runs will help keep it interesting.
  4. Monitor your progress with a pedometer (step counter) or mobile phone app. When you reach a new ‘personal best’ for time or distance, you will feel motivated to keep reaching new goals.

Where can I find running clubs, classes, or coaches?

There are many mobile phone apps, training programs and group workout resources.

  • The Australian Government runs apps for all age and fitness levels. Find the right one for you.
  • For inspiration, expert tips and educational resources, head to Exercise Right by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA).
  • If you are looking for a running community or to challenge yourself through weekly and monthly goals, try 10,000 steps.
  • For one-on-one support, you can find a registered exercise coach.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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