Author: Nancy Rolnik, MD
Who hasn’t dedicated January to getting in better shape? For those of us who have slacked over the holidays, it seems like the perfect plan. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and you might as well embark on a new program for 2017. We all know exercise reduces the risks of many diseases plus it can improve mood and help you get a more restful night’s rest. Adding in new exercise challenges or boosting your current exercise regimen can result in injury so before hitting the gym hard, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid injury.
Consult Your Doctor
Before making a major change in your routine, you should consult your physician. For instance, if you sign up for a couch-to-5k program, the first step is to make sure your heart is healthy enough to participate. Once you are given the green light, then go for it!
Ready to dive into a new fitness routine? Many people return to exercise with the same zest and energy as they did in their youth. Be sure to start small and know your limitations. Every February I care for patients with “New Year’s Resolution injuries”. Many injuries are caused by overuse or doing too much too quickly. Sound familiar? Set reasonable goals. It’s best to achieve your goal with a slow progression than start 7 days/week and end up with an overuse injury the following month. Areas that are particularly sensitive to rapid increased load include the tendons, knees, and shoulders. For your couch potato plan, those schedules are created to slowly engage your body into running so you don’t get hurt. It’s important to also cross train to divide the stress to your bones, muscles and joints to various areas. As a general rule of thumb, limit your miles or time of exercise by about 10%/week. Over time you will build your stamina and be able to take on more.
Listen To Your Body
Be aware of pain that lingers. Sure, you’ll get pain with any new program but muscle pain should be short lived. If you are feeling sore for a few days, that’s ok but if your pain continues more than 1-2 weeks after decreasing your activity, then get evaluated by your physician. RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is always a good rule of thumb if you are experiencing minor pain. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) include Advil, Ibuprofen, and Aleve. Tylenol can help too. However, if you pop an NSAID, you should not use it as an excuse to ignore your pain and keep pushing. This is how you make an injury worse.
Vary Your Workouts
Mix things up. If you swim one day, try jogging or weight lifting the next. Overusing a part of your body by doing repetitive movements can lead to injury. One example of this is shin splints. Runners who increase their miles too fast may feel it in their shins a few weeks after starting a new program. This is a good indicator they are taking it too hard. The best thing you can do is vary the workouts to use different parts of your body.
Plan a few rest days each week to allow your body to recover. Just like your brain needs some time to sleep, your muscles need time off to achieve recovery. You may be tempted to push yourself to make up for lost time or meet an unrealistic goal but if you do not schedule time for rest, you may end up with an injury that forces you to rest. Then you are back to square one, back on the coach.