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Nearly every runner has them: Friends who hear about your running adventures and swoon. “I’ve got to start running,” they say, clearly envious of your stamina, energy, and healthy physique.
But they never start, and you know they probably never will – at least not on their own.
Beginning a regular exercise routine is hard for many people. Whether they’re out of shape, can’t find the time, or just lack confidence in themselves, the idea of engaging in regular aerobic activity can be intimidating. To some, it might seem downright impossible.
Thankfully, you’re a runner. The barriers to entry for our favorite form of exercise are fairly low. There’s no need to invest in specialized equipment or gym memberships. You just put on your shoes and go!
Here are a few ways to get those exercise-wary friends to overcome their inhibitions and start running.
Invite them to come with you
Without some external motivation (in this case: you), it can be hard to begin a new habit.
Tell them you love company on your runs and that you know some routes that are perfect for beginners. Don’t make them think they can’t start running if they’re not already at your level.
When they agree to go with you, take it slow on the first few runs. And make sure you really do pick routes suited to beginners. It could be that one of the reasons they’re not running is that they simply don’t know any good places to run. Now they will.
Be sure to encourage them along the way, and congratulate them after each run – no matter how short or easy it seemed to you.
Consider their schedules
A busy schedule makes it hard to work in a regular run or, for that matter, any kind of exercise.
If someone hasn’t developed the habit, adding exercise to a schedule that already seems full might seem totally insurmountable. It’s up to you to show your friend that he or she can fit in a 30-minute run, even if it’s only a few days each week to start.
Sit down and help them pick a block of time to go for a run. Whenever they’re usually watching television or surfing the Internet is a good time to squeeze one in. After you’ve convinced them that going for a run is something they can fit into their schedule, tell them you’d like to come along.
And if you can’t come along, tell your friend to report back to you after the run so you can see how it went. As soon as your friend makes that verbal commitment, it suddenly becomes harder to shrug off exercise the way he or she has done before.
Even the busiest people usually take time at the beginning or end of the day to watch their shows, read news blogs, or otherwise be sedentary. Helping them see that there are more healthful ways to spend that time is often just the impetus they need to make a change.
Be sensitive to their inhibitions
There are scores of reasons why your friend might be hesitant to run.
Someone who is out of shape or has little confidence in his or her athletic ability may feel shy about exercising in public. Keep this in mind when you pick out where you’ll run together.
The indoor track at a crowded gym may not be the best choice, for instance.
If they’ve tried to run before but just couldn’t handle the physical rigor, try doing a few walk-then-run sessions the first few times you go out. Keep running with them and keep encouraging them. They’ll eventually get more comfortable covering longer distances, and the strain they once felt will begin to disappear.
Offer personalized incentives
What do you and your non-running, wish-I-was-running friend usually do together?
Do you eat Mexican food? Watch football? Grab a cold beer on the weekends?
Try to work activities you and your friend enjoy into the running routine. Don’t just say, for example, “Let’s go run at 6:00 today.” Instead, tell your friend, “Come with me on a run this afternoon, and we’ll watch the game when we get back.” Associating the exercise with the incentive will often make someone amenable to doing both.
But incentive or no incentive, runner evangelism is tough work. Even when your friends really want to run, actually getting them to do it can be like pulling teeth.
Being a little more proactive in your efforts may be just what your friends need to get off the couch and into a pair of running shoes. They’ll be pursuing a fuller, healthier lifestyle – and you’ll feel good that you helped them get there.