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How To Exercise Safely

Get The Gain And Avoid The Pain!

Exercise is a natural thing to do. However, it does bring with it the risk of injury. Injury and discomfort can be avoided by respecting a few rules for physical activity.



ASSESS YOUR READINESS

Almost everyone can benefit from and take part in an exercise program. But you need to realistically assess your physical state before starting an exercise program. Choose the type of exercise and the intensity, duration and frequency of exercise based upon what you can reasonably expect from your body. Start out easy and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise over a period of months.

Some people should use special caution when considering an exercise program. If you can answer yes to any of the following questions you should consult with your doctor concerning an appropriate exercise program for you:

1. Has your doctor said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?
2. Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?
3. In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
4. Do you lose balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?
5. Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
6. Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs for your blood pressure or heart condition?
7. Do you know of any other reason why you should not do physical activity?



PROCEED AT A REASONABLE PACE

WARM-UP/COOL-DOWN--Start and end your activity at an easy pace to allow your body a chance to adapt and loosen up. Set aside 5 - 10 minutes before and after exercise to warm-up and cool-down.

MAKE YOUR EXERCISE PROGRAM PROGRESSIVE --Respect your current fitness level by starting an exercise program at a pace and duration that you know that you can maintain. Increase intensity and duration gradually. A good rule of thumb is to increase duration no more than 15-20 percent per week.

BE WARY OF OVEREXERTION AND HEAT EXHAUSTION--If you suffer from headache, side-ache, upset stomach/nausea, or breathlessness during or shortly after exercise, you are likely overdoing it. Avoid exercise during times of high temperatures or humidity. Drink extra fluids and slacken your pace when the weather is warm.

GET ADEQUATE REST BETWEEN SESSIONS--To avoid excess muscle and joint soreness take it easy in the early phases of your exercise program. A period of rest gives your body a chance to respond to your exercise challenge before the stress of the next workout. Alternate vigorous sessions with an easier pace on alternate days. Schedule "rest" days into your routine.



DRINK EXTRA FLUIDS

Drink a pint of water about 15 minutes before you start exercising. If you exercise in a warm enviroment, drink a large glass of water every 20 minutes during the activity, then drink at least a pint after you cool down. While exercising in hot weather you can lose as much as a quart of water every hour.

If you don't drink enough water, you can become dehydrated (possible signs being nauseated and/or lethargic). If you ignore these signs, your body may go into heat exhaustion or heat stroke, neither of which are much fun. You can determine your body's state of hydration or dehydration by monitoring your urination. Clear or lightly colored urine indicates adequate hydration; dark urine indicates inadequate hydration, and, lack of urination for hours indicates dehydration.



INCLUDE FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES IN YOUR PROGRAM

Vigorous exercise, such as running or aerobic dance, can cause your muscles to become tight. A tight muscle is more susceptible to injury. If you don't stretch on a regular basis your chances of being injured while exercising will probably be increased.



SHOES, CLOTHING AND OTHER EQIPMENT

Proper footwear for running, walking, and other activities can help you avoid bisters, sore feet, and more serious injury to your feet and joints.

Clothing appropriate for conditions and your chosen activity can go a long way to enhancing your comfort and safety. While much of the clothing worn for many sports is a matter of fashion, you should consider whether a given item (bike shorts or rain gear for instance) might be useful or essential to your chosen activity. This ia particularly true for cold and warm weather. Likewise, warm weather exercise demands clothing and fabrics that enhance body cooling.

If your activity is done on the public roads, clothing or other devices to enhance your visibility to drivers should be considered. Brightly colored reflective vests are available, as are flashing lights that can be attached to cothing or equipment.

Helmets are essential for bicycling, rollerblading, and some types of mountain climbing.



CROSS-TRAIN

Most people find it useful to use several different types of exercise to vary their routine. Cross-train by choosing alternative activities that work different muscle groups. By working different muscles and joints with different activities, you can gain more benefit from your sessions while avoiding repeated strain. Many runners and walkers bicycle or swim one or two days a week. Rowing is a good upper body alternative, while cross-country skiing is good in the winter.



TAKE IT EASY IF YOU ARE SICK OR INJURED

When you come down with a cold or other illness your body needs all of its resources to combat the infection and heat. This is also true when recovering from an injury or surgery. Adding exercise to the stress of illness puts extra strain on your body's energy reserves and immune system. Wait until you are fully recovered before resuming regular exercise. When you do resume, take into account your period of inactivity and avoid vigorous workouts until your body is back into the routine.



KNOW YOUR WARNING SIGNS

The following are abnormal responses to exercise. If you encounter any of these, stop exercising and consult with your doctor before resuming.

Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting
Chest pain
Heart palpitations
Joint pain persisting after more than three days of rest
Severe pain of any kind



KNOW AND AVOID THE INHERENT DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR ACTIVITY

Most sports and other outdoor activities involve the potential for accidental injury. Please consider:

WALKERS--Be aware of traffic if you walk along or cross streets. Walk against the flow of traffic. Stay alert for the potential for falling or tripping on uneven ground.

RUNNERS--Be aware of traffic if you run along or cross streets. Years ago I was out for a early Sunday morning run and while crossing the street I was hit by a speeding motorcycle and woke up in the hospital three days later!

BICYCLLISTS--Always wear a helmet regardless of where you are riding or how far you are going. Be aware of traffic and obey the traffic rules. Warn others when passing from behind.

SWIMMERS--Know and respect the hazards of cold water. Avoid swimming alone and always respect currents and tide while swimming in open water.



LEARN HOW TO AVOID REPETITIVE STRESS INJURIES

Many physical activities have the potential for creating commulative damage to muscles and joints. By nature, physical activity presents a stress to the body in the form of physical resistance and/or impact. Repeated stress can result in microscopic tears within the muscles as well as inflammation of tendons and joint surfaces. This damage usually announces itself by way of joint swelling and/or pain in the knees, feet, shoulders, or other joints. If the damage is mild the body is able to make repairs, given there is time allowed for healing. More severe damage and inflammation occurs when time between stresses is not adequate to allow healing. Chronic pain, inflammation,and scarification is the result. Repetitive stress injuries can be greatly reduced by paying close attention to the following factors:

1. PACE YOUR EXERCISE PROGRM--Avoid increasing your level of exercise too quickly.Give your body a chance to adapt to the demands you are making of it.

2. ALLOW ADEQUATE REST BETWEEN WORKOUTS--Days of heavy intensity should be followed by a day off or a light intensity workout day.

3. STRETCHING--Stretch frequently and give particular attention to the limbs and joints that are used in your chosen activities.

4. ALLOW FOR THE HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR SPORT OR ACTIVITY--Variation of gait, anatomy, or exercise technique can complicate and amplify the stress inherent in certain activities. The tendency to pronate (point the toes outward as you walk or run) is a common gait problem that can lead to foot and knee problems with walkers or runners. Likewise, improper bicycle sizing or seating adjustments can lead to knee problems with cyclists. General recommendations for common activities are listed below:

Walking--Wear well fitting supportive shoes with adequate sole padding. If your soles wear unevently, consider using an orthotic device to help correct your stride.

Running--Since not all running shoes are made alike, make sure your shoes fit and are appropriate for your foot shape, gait, and training intensity. Buy your shoes in a store that specializes in running shoes. Replace your shoes as they wear out. If your soles wear unevenly, consider using an orthotic device to help correct your stride. Avoid running on hard surfaces if possible,

Bicycling--Change hand positions frequently when riding. Use well padded bicycle gloves and grip the bar lightly. Special bike shoes can enhance efficiancy and help avoid painful stress to the arch. Make sure your bike frame is sized properly for your body size. The position, height, and adjustment of handlebar, stem, saddle, and crank arm must be set properly to avoid possible injury to back, knee, arms or neck. This can be done by a shop that specializes in bicycles.

5. DEAL WITH MINOR PROBLEMS BEFORE THEY BECOME MAJOR ONES--If you notice a soreness that crops up during all or most sessions of exercise or a recurrent pain in a limb or joint, you probably are working on a more serious injury. Cut back on your exercise intensity and frequency. Consult with your doctor about possible causes and solutions.