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Pound the pavements and lose the pounds. Running is one of the most effective and time-efficient forms of exercise for weight loss, muscle tone and keeping your heart and lungs (not to mention your mind) in tip-top condition. Best of all, it's one of the easiest and cheapest sports to take up - all you need is a good-quality pair of running shoes and the world is at your feet.

How does it work?

To start running, it can be as simple as getting out there and getting going, but there is a wealth of information out there to help you get the most from your run. Here are just a few key tips:

  • If you've never run before, regardless of your level of fitness, it will take a while for you to learn how to manage your breathing and find a steady pace that suits you. In these first running sessions it can be a good idea to alternate a minute of running with a minute of walking while you find your feet.

  • Poor posture can hamper your run and can even lead to you getting a stitch - this is the last thing you want because it's likely to put you off running any further. Imagine there is a string running through the centre of your body and pulling you up from the head. Your head should be high, your shoulders not hunched and your stomach muscles should be actively holding you upright.

  • If you find you're huffing and puffing after just a few hundred metres, try running more economically. That means making sure you're not bounding too high in the air (which is also not good for your joints) or shifting too much from side to side as you run - all your energy should be taking you forwards. Also, unless you have legs the length of the BFG there's no need to take enormous strides. Shorter strides are generally a more economical use of your energy.

Once you are improving as a runner and have built up the walk-run-walk-run sessions into 15-20 minutes of continuous running, you might want to consider joining a running club. This will give you the motivation to get out and run on even on the coldest of nights when your slippers are looking more inviting than your trainers. It's also a great way to get tips on your technique and training from other runners.

Running a mile is thought to burn approximately 110 calories for the average person. This makes it a great way to fight the flab. To get maximum health benefits, though, it's good to vary your training regimen. Variety is key, so try to include each of the following types of exercise:

  • Endurance sessions - these are long runs that will build your stamina, burn fat and increase your endurance.

  • Interval training (for example Fartlek technique) - this is when you alternate the intensity of your run. For example, you might sprint as fast as you can for two minutes, then run at a medium pace for five minutes and repeat this a few times. This really gets your heart and lungs working and you will find that next time you go for an ordinary run you'll really notice that your pace and fitness have improved.

  • Hill runs - these are good for a similar reason to interval training. Running uphill also means you are working your leg muscles at a much higher intensity, which builds strength and will give you super-toned thighs and buns of steel.

  • Resistance training - although running uses a lot of your body's key muscle groups, it's important to keep your whole body conditioned with resistance training (such as press-ups, lunges, squats, abdominal crunches etc). This will actually improve your running ability as well as making sure you look fit and fantastic.

On average, most 'runners' (i.e. people who use this as their main form of exercise) can stay healthy and enviably trim with between two to four training sessions per week.

Is it for me?

It takes a little while to get the knack of running. At first you might feel there's no way you could ever maintain an even a trot for ten minutes. However, running can be extremely gratifying if you stick with it because you'll improve in leaps and bounds. When you start out, listen to your body - being out of puff and having achy legs the next day is normal, but any sharp or stabbing pains while you're running are a sign that something is wrong and you should talk to your GP before running more.

Pay attention to your knees and your shins - these are the most common complaints for runners and having a damaged knee or shin-splint (when your shins become extremely tender) is no joke and can stop you running for months. Buying a good pair of running-specific trainers with shock absorption will help to keep your joints and bones in good nick.

If you are female, it's important to make sure you invest in a good sports bra to avoid damaging your Cooper's ligament. This ligament is like the harness for your boobs and keeps them looking pert. Once this has stretched and sagged, unfortunately it never tightens again so make sure you get good support from day one!

Most importantly, you should enjoy running. It releases tonnes of endorphins and can make you feel fantastic. This is one of the reasons running is often prescribed for people suffering from depression - it also gives you a real sense of purpose, achievement and when you start getting fitter it can really raise your self-esteem. There is only one way to find out if you've got the 'running bug' and that's to give it a go.

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