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Don’t jog and jam – replace music players with “fartleks,” other tricks

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With the first month of 2012 under our belts, I’m sure we’re all rocking along to a steady rhythm as we work on our New Year’s resolutions. You betcha.

If one of those ambitions is losing weight, I’m sure those belts are getting looser and looser. But when jogging or running is part of your regimen, be careful not to get too deep in the groove. Musically speaking, that is.

With today’s iPods and other MP3 players, smartphones that play music, and even MP3-equipped sunglasses, it’s easier than ever to take your tunes with you when you hit the road. The trouble is, if you are zoned out to music, things on the road can hit you.

We’ve all been bombarded with the message that distracted driving is a killer. Well, distracted jogging or running can be just as deadly – in ways you probably haven’t even thought about.

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Roger Bannister breaks the world record in the mile, running it 3 minutes 59.4 seconds on May 6, 1954. Bannister trained himself to make history and break the 4-minute barrier by listening to his body, not to an iPod.

Obviously, if your music is too loud, you can’t hear engine noise or a warning honk from an approaching car or truck. But here’s a scary thought: You might not be able the hear the approach of other people – one of whom might be a possible attacker.

Music also exerts powerful influences on you other than diminishing your hearing. “Music floods the brain and takes over your thought processes,” explains Dr. Diana Deutsch, a psychologist who researches the perception of sound. The lyrics, or even the melody itself, can call forth memories or summon up thoughts that can take over your attention, sending you into a daydream.

Don’t overlook the fact that the same thing can happen while listening to a recorded book on a portable player. Get lost in a good story, and your friends and family could wind up watching a story on TV about you as a crash victim.

Scientists have even theorized that music and other auditory distractions can hamper your vision. “The tempo can interfere with the rate at which your brain perceives images that are passing by you, which could trip you up,” Deutsch says, making you more likely to run into or in front of vehicles, or even run into stationary objects.

Something else to think about is that distraction can make your workout less efficient, and even make you prone to injury. People use music to help them ignore the fatigued, winded, “feel-the-burn” kind of pain. But you also may not notice the “uh-oh-I-just-hurt-myself” kind of pain. A minor turn of an ankle, twist of a knee or bruise on a foot might not break through the reverie of the music until the injury has gotten much more serious than if you had stopped immediately.

“Running Unplugged”

Women’s Health magazine offers some excellent tips for taking your mind off your discomfort as you run while staying aware of your surroundings and the physical signals from your body.

Counting

Match your breathing to your stride. For example, breathe in for four steps, (right, left, right, left) and breathe out for the same number. Adjust the number to what’s right for you. Counting keeps your mind busy, but you’re not distracted from what’s going on around you.

Fartleks

Swedish word for “speed play,” fartleks incorporate intense sprints into a distance workout. Pick a point ahead of you – a mailbox, a tree – and sprint to it. Mix eight fartleks into a 45-minute run. It won’t feel so tough because the end of the sprint is always just ahead. (The football team did these in high school. You can imagine how hilarious the word “fartlek” is to teenage boys.) But this is a tough workout There's actually a “Fartlek Hill” in Quantico, Virginia, at the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School.

Body Scan

Systematically inventory each part of your body. How does your right foot feel? Your calf? Thigh, ribs, chest, shoulder, Work your way up one side and down the other, looking out for tightness or excess discomfort.

Head Games

Really need music? Sing to yourself – it doesn’t have to be pretty. Count things: trees, streetlights, squirrels, cute … well, you get the picture.

One friend even tells me that for diversion while running he berates himself in an accent. He claims he sounds like an Australian drill sergeant. “That ain’t pain, ya styoopid git, yer fat as a wombat, run loik there’s a dingo on yer ar$e!”

Well, mate, whatever works for ya.