Running is running is running, right?
Just about anyone who's run at least a block knows that a lot of items can affect how you jog, including your attire and even the weather. Another factor that can influence your running—and your body—is the ground surface. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of various surfaces:
Dirt—Pros: Dirt is generally a great running surface unless it's powdery or hard as a rock. Because dirt softens the impact of downhill running, it's highly recommended for workouts on hills. Cons: A rough or muddy trail exposes you to the risk of lower-leg and ankle injuries. This possibility is definitely true if leaves or mud conceals rocks or roots. Things to consider: Paying attention is the key to injury-free trail running. Look away at that cute jogger for too long and you could twist an ankle.
Grass—Pros: If you tend to get injured on the road, then running on mowed grass is wonderful. Try to seek grass (the legal kind) at city parks, college athletic fields (if nothing else for the view), and golf-course fairways. Cons: Mushy, soft grass is fun to lie down on ... but can twist an ankle if you're running. Things to consider: If you choose to run on a golf course, watch out for balls and carts. Tiger Woods has enough distractions.
Wood—Pros: Since wood is both smooth and springy, it makes indoor board tracks, wood-chip paths, and beach boardwalks excellent running spots. Cons: Repeatedly circling a track is not only boring but all potentially harmful because the curves are often sharp and banked. Things to consider: Only run a few laps on your first few visits to an indoor track. If practical, reverse direction every few laps to distribute the stress equally.
Track—Pros: The resilient, even plane of an outdoor track poses the least risk to runners who tend to suffer joint-related injuries. Track surfaces can range from soft dirt to rubberized asphalt, but all are good if kept in nice condition. Cons: If you plan on running more than four miles (16 laps), a track can be a bad choice; rounding the curves can bother your knees and feet. Also, unless you're jogging behind a Greek god (or goddess), you could become bored silly. Things to consider: This is the best choice for speed workouts and even jumping rope. Stay away from old, neglected tracks.
Treadmill—Pros: A gym-quality treadmill is both smooth and cushioned, without the bumpiness of trails and the harsh impact of other surfaces. You also don't have to deal with harsh weather, unless you're driving through rough winds to get to the health club. Cons: Well, let's see ... there's overheating, the potential humiliation of falling off, and the fact that your muscles constantly fire the same way, causing you to get fatigued faster. Then, there's the boredom factor. Things to consider: If you're a control freak, this tread's for you. You can change the speed and incline while getting constant feedback.
Asphalt—Pros: Smooth asphalt is a friend to your ankles. Any shoe with a decent midsole and outer sole can absorb much of the impact. Cons: Road running can beat up nearly all of your lower-body muscles and tendons as well as your back. If you're vulnerable to hamstring or lower-back tightness, go off-road instead. Things to consider: Running on banked road shoulders can produce various leg-related injuries.
Sand—Pros: Sand is an ideal running surface, but only if it's the right kind. The best sand running is done on a flat beach at low tide in the tidal zone, the area that's wet and pretty hard. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) Cons: Watch out for your knees and other joints. Running in shoes on hard sand provides stability and motion control. Things to consider: Limit soft-sand running to short sprints. This type of exercise provides an unbeatable high-intensity/low-impact training method for sports where foot speed is important (e.g., tennis and basketball).
Hills—Pros: Hill climbs can strengthen the hamstrings and groin muscles, not to mention the heart and lungs. Running downhill works your quadriceps and shins. Cons: Too much climbing can lead to an overuse injury of the hamstrings or Achilles tendons; descending too much can bring on a knee injury. Add ups and downs gradually. Things to consider: Because landing on your heels while going downhill is pretty jarring, try to do your hill workouts off-road and wear well-cushioned shoes.
Snow/Ice—Pros: If you can think of one, e-mail me. Cons: Running on snow or surfaces made slippery by ice or rain can overextend your groin muscles if you slip even slightly. Then, say hello to Mr. Muscle Tear and Mr. Groin Pull. Things to consider: You're better off staying indoors on a treadmill watching a Lifetime movie as you run. If you must run on this surface, wear shoes with very, very good traction.
Concrete—Pros: If it's maintained well, concrete is very smooth. Cons: Believe it or not, concrete is about 10 times harder than asphalt, so all of your bones, muscles, and connective tissue are pounded constantly. Things to consider: Needless to say, wear shoes that are extremely well-cushioned. Plus, slip in some gel or neoprene heel pads.
Sources: Men's Fitness; 1st-in-fitness.com; runningstrong.net .
People living in sprawling suburbs are more likely to be obese and have higher blood pressure than those in compact cities, according to the first national study examining health consequences of urban planning.
Researchers examined urban development in 448 counties—where about two-thirds of the U.S. population reside—and health and census data of more than 200,000 of those residents.
People weighed as much as six pounds more in high-sprawl areas than those in compact counties.
Sprawl was determined through a 'sprawl index'—ranking counties based on population and development patterns, such as the proportion of small blocks that people can walk. Scores ranged from 63 for the most sprawling county, just outside of Cleveland, to 352 for the least sprawling—Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.
'People are driving to work, to lunch, to school—basically they're driving everywhere,' said Dr. Reid Ewing, professor of smart growth at Rutgers University and chief author of the study.
How did we do? Well, people in Cook County are 10.09 percent less likely to be obese than the average American; however, people in Grundy County (which includes East Brooklyn, Minooka, and Coal City) are 2.63 percent more likely to be obese.
Sources: San Mateo County Times; CNN.com; Chicago Tribune.
I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org .