Becoming a runner when you've previously been a professional couch warmer is daunting.  But learning to run for exercise is easier than most people think.  Like any exercise program, the trick is to set realistic goals, start out at a slow, gradual pace, use the right equipment and keep at it.  Think tortoise, not hare.

Get Ready:  Don't just slip on your old high-top sneakers or tennis shoes.  Invest in running shoes that fit properly and are designed to support your feet, legs, and knees.  Using old or improper footwear is just asking for shin splits, knee pain, and painful feet. 

Get Set:  Make a plan.  Log on to runner's websites, and look up beginner's training programs.  Consider joining a beginner's running group at the gym, community center, or through a running equipment store. 

Go: Whether you're training for a 5K or just running for fun and fitness, the first step is heading out the door.  Start with a track, the sidewalk or a wide, level trail.  You're not ready for mountain running yet.  Treadmills are fine but most runners agree running on a treadmill is a different sport than running outdoors.  Treadmills set the pace for you and get boring fast. 

Starting Gate

Unless you already participate in sports that keep you running (like basketball, soccer or tennis), start out walking.  It takes time to build up strength and endurance in your muscles, bones and lungs.  Aim for a brisk 20-30 minute walk at least 4 times a week for a couple weeks.  When that becomes a comfortable routine, increase your pace or distance; not both.  Dramatic changes in speed, duration or distance (or all at once) lead to injury and burn out.  Slow but stead wins this race.

Next Steps

Introduce running into your routine by alternating increments of 2 minutes of jogging/running with 4 minutes of walking.  Five repetitions equal 30 minutes of exercise.  Don't go too fast.  Set your pace as close to your "fast walk" as possible and make sure you can still talk while running.

When you're ready for more (usually after a week or so of regular training) alternate 3 minutes of walking with 3 minutes of running.  Week by week, increase the running, and decrease the walking increments until you can comfortably run for 30 minutes at a time.

When you're running for 30 minutes, add distance, time or speed gradually.  If you're training for a specific goal like a marathon, find a trainer or running expert to help you reach the finish line safely.