People exercise for many different reasons, but The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states, “Exercise and physical activity are good for just about everyone…” Furthermore, “Lack of physical activity also can lead to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more use of medicines for a variety of illnesses.”
Unfortunately, exercising can also cause injuries. These are the most common exercise injuries:
- Sprains and strains
- Muscle cramps
So, the question becomes… how do you enjoy the benefits of exercise without causing injury?
10 Tips to Avoid Exercise Injuries
- Warmup and Cool Down – Yes, taking time to warm up and cool down does add time to your workout. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, “A warmup gradually revs up your cardiovascular system by raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles. Warming up may also help reduce muscle soreness and lessen your risk of injury. In addition, cooling down after your workout allows for a gradual recovery of pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure.” To warm-up and cool down, spend five to ten minutes doing the activity at a slower pace, gradually increasing speed and/or intensity. For example, to warm up for a run, walk briskly for five to ten minutes.
- Stretch – The benefits of stretching are still being debated. However, one confirmed advantage is improved flexibility and range of motion of your joints. Better flexibility may enable your muscles to work more efficiently, improve performance, and… yes… decrease your risk of injuries.
- Don’t Overestimate Your Abilities – If you’re just starting a new exercise program, you may be excited and perhaps, a bit overzealous in the beginning. If you want to be able to continue exercising without injury, start slowly until you genuinely understand your abilities.
- Choose the Right Exercise – If you have any health conditions or have not been active for a while, talk to your health care provider first and discuss what type of exercise might be right for you. For example, starting with a low-intensity exercise such as walking or golf may make sense, rather than a high-impact sport such as basketball.
- Use the Right Equipment/Clothing - Use suitable safety equipment – such as helmets – to avoid injuries. For example, wear a bike helmet for biking (not a ski helmet) and ensure that equipment fits properly and is in good working condition. Also, wear the proper clothing and footwear for the activity.
- Cross-Train –Instead of running every day, try alternating between running and swimming. This will help you avoid overuse injuries, and because you’re engaging different muscles, it may improve your overall workouts.
- Listen to Your Body – You should push your body slowly and gradually, but you should NOT feel pain while exercising. If you do, your body is trying to tell you something isn’t right – perhaps you’re doing the exercise incorrectly or pushing your body too hard.
- Learn Proper Form/Technique – Improper form can cause serious injuries, so if you’re starting something new, consider working with a professional to ensure you are doing it correctly from the start.
Stay Hydrated – Water helps your body exercise more efficiently, and when you exercise, you lose water through sweat, so staying hydrated while exercising is particularly crucial. Experts suggest:
- 2 to 3 cups during the 2 to 3 hours before your workout
- 1/2 to 1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout
- 2 to 3 cups after your workout for every pound (of weight you lose during the exercise
- Eat Right – What you eat can affect your workout. For example, if you exercise in the morning and don’t eat breakfast first, you can feel sluggish and lightheaded, which can lead to injuries. So, take time to eat a high-protein breakfast. Eating small snacks – such as meal replacement bars or healthy fruit drinks - can also provide needed energy without making you feel bloated or sluggish.