Avoiding Injuries When You Exercise
Exercise is healthy and fun, but you can hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. Sports-related injuries are on the rise, especially for activities like weight training, among people over 50. Taking a few simple precautions can help you avoid a trip to the doctor’s office or emergency room.Getting regular exercise can improve your health and help you live longer. An exhilarating physical activity can also ease stress, boost your mood and energy level, and help you stay fit. In fact, some people enjoy exercising so much that they overdo it and get hurt. That is why moderation is the key to avoiding exercise-related injuries.
“The safest way to keep from injuring yourself during exercise is to avoid trying to do too much too soon,” the American Academy of Family Physicians says. “Start with an activity that is fairly easy for you, such as walking. Do it for a few minutes a day or several times a day. Then slowly increase the level of activity.” Here are some other tips for avoiding injuries when you exercise:
- Check with your doctor before you start exercising. This is especially important if you are over 35, have not taken part in an exercise or sports program for a while, or have a health condition. Your doctor may choose to test your fitness level to see what’s safe for you.
- Use proper footwear and gear. Wear comfortable athletic shoes (or, for hiking or skiing, boots) that fit. Choose socks that will absorb moisture and provide padding. In cold weather, dress in several layers of light, water-repellent clothing that provide ventilation for comfort and insulation for warmth. If riding a bike, be sure to wear a helmet.
- Warm up and stretch before and after you exercise. Warming up gradually increases your heart rate and the flexibility of your muscles. The best type of warm-up varies with the activity but generally involves 5‑10 minutes of exercise that’s less strenuous than what you’ll be doing. Start with some simple stretches of your legs, leaning toward a wall and stretching your calves. Then grab your ankle behind your back and pull your leg up. If you plan to run or jog, for example, your warm-up might include walking or jogging at a slower pace than you expect to maintain during your workout.
- Drink plenty of water. Drinking fluids will help to prevent dehydration and, in hot weather, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you will be exercising for more than a few minutes, carry a water bottle and have a drink every 20 minutes or so.
- Take extra precautions if you’ll be outdoors at night. Put reflective patches on your clothes and equipment, and carry a small flashlight so that you can see the ground and others can see you. Stay on the sidewalk instead of running in a field so that your footing is more secure.
- Cool down after you exercise. Your cooling-down period will allow your heart rate to gradually return to normal. You may want to do similar warm-up and cool-down exercises. But if you have been exercising strenuously, your cool-down period will need to be longer, because your heart will be beating faster than when you started and need more time to adjust.
- Rest between exercise sessions. Stop exercising when you feel tired, and give yourself days off as needed. If you’re starting to exercise again after not being active for a while, your doctor may advise you to exercise for shorter periods or 3 to 4 times a week instead of every day.
- Get advice from a sports professional when you take up a new sport. Many sports injuries result from using muscles incorrectly -- for example, from poor stroke technique in swimming or swing technique in golf. A few lessons from a trained instructor may help you avoid problems. If you are taking up weightlifting, ask a doctor or experienced athletic trainer for advice on what you can safely lift.
- Don’t try to “play through pain.” You may make an injury worse if you play through pain or soreness during a softball, basketball, soccer, hockey, or other game. Some minor repetitive-stress or other injuries will heal on their own if you give the affected body part enough rest. If you don not take time off from exercising, an injury may never have a chance to heal. And by continuing to exercise, you risk a more serious injury to a body part that’s already vulnerable.
- If you have chest pains, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, stop exercising and get medical help immediately. Carry a cell phone in your pocket so that you can call for help right away.