As our nation wrestles with the dilemma of ever escalating health-care costs, the most obvious solution is a healthier lifestyle.

As our nation wrestles with the dilemma of ever escalating health-care costs, the most obvious solution is a healthier lifestyle.


Unfortunately, our national overweight and obesity rates have climbed to an astounding two-thirds of all Americans, and we have the worst health of any industrialized nation. But the solution could be as simple as lacing up a pair of Nikes. The encouraging news is that lots of folks are catching on as we are experiencing a running boom.


Presuming you are in reasonable health (of course, consult with your physician before embarking on any new exercise regime), you probably fall into one of the following categories:


- I’m not a runner; I’m a beginner.


- I love to race.


- I’m just a kid.


Taking the leap as a non-runner means taking on the forces of nature — bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.


Perhaps the most important first step is to make a commitment to your health and a promise to follow a consistent plan for a minimum of 10 weeks.


After 10 weeks, you’ll be a changed person, but keep in mind that there will be lots of your non-exercising friends who will put negative pressure on you.


I chuckle to myself when an old acquaintance asks, “Are you still running?” with that sad tone like they were asking if I still had a rash.


Be committed and don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. Here’s what you need to do. Carve out 30 minutes every other day that cannot be taken away from you, and go outside, and jog or walk briskly.


You need to go outside because when you were a kid that’s where you went to play, and you need to think of this as your time to play. If it’s raining, go anyway — you did that when you were a kid.


Increase the quantity and speed of your walk-to-run by no more than 10 percent per week. By the end of 10 weeks, you will have increased from 105 minutes per week to 210 minutes, and you’ll be a hooked jogger.


Now the forces of nature will work with you — bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. While hooked on a healthy lifestyle is the primary goal, many joggers make the leap to the next phase, pinning on a race number, a wonderful passage for many.


It’s far less intimidating than imagined. It’s a wonderful social event, and it’s a real kick to tell your friends that you competed in a race. They will look at you differently, and you may even begin to look at yourself differently.


Almost everyone who runs their first race loves the boost in self-confidence and fun. The health benefits are still important, but bettering your best race time can become the new goal. It’s a very exciting phase in a runner’s life — every race is a personal record (PR) — and as the goals get loftier, how do most try to get faster?


More running and harder running sounds sensible, but that enthusiasm may lead to a running “overdose” and the inevitable overuse injuries that typically follow.


The possibility of a running injury can be greatly reduced, however. While there is no sure-fire way to prevent running injuries, the good news is that proper coaching can minimize their likelihood, and coaching services are readily available at a modest expense.


A good coach can help you safely progress while keeping your newfound enthusiasm in check.


Many running clubs offer coaching services, but you should be sure that the program encourages runners at all levels so that you are able to train with runners who are at your pace.


There is one more key ingredient to a successful running program that most runners ignore: strength training. I believe there is no more efficient way to lose weight and get in shape than running, but to be a healthy, long-term endurance athlete requires respecting your body and its overall wellbeing.


A good strength-training plan minimizes injuries and builds the overall strength we should all have. Again, proper coaching is important, so check out your local YMCA.


But what about our kids?


As adults, we have no more important role than to be good examples to the kids we love. We need to lead them to a lifestyle of fitness through fun. One of the best ways to get kids of all ability levels fit is, of course, through running. But parents, don’t try to do it alone, have them join a youth running program to get them started. They’ll love it, as well as learn the wonderful sense of accomplishment of physical activity.


If they have never been in organized sports or are budding scholastic stars, a running program can boost their self-esteem, their strength and the love of a lifetime sport.


Get them on the road to a lifetime of physical fitness, and you’ve just given them the gift of a better life.


So, as the Nike ad suggests, “Just do it!”


Tom Licciardello is a founding member of Massachusetts' Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in 86 marathons including the last 33 Boston Marathons. He has also completed the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. Professionally, he is a Certified Financial Planner and resides in North Andover, Mass., with his wife, Lyn. He may be reached at tomlicc@verizon.net.