Some of the most common exercise or sporting-related injuries are minor muscular sprains, strains and cartilage tears of the knee, up to more serious issues such as hip and tendon tears.
But there are ways to prevent or minimise your risk. Find out how.
Walk before you run
If you’re trying a new exercise class or routine, or stopped exercising for a little while, you will need to start slow and gradually build up your strength, endurance and flexibility. This is one of the most basic principles of preventing fitness injuries, explains Professor Nigel Hope, a Sydney-based expert on orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine.
He says one of the most common injuries presenting to him is a cartilage tear of the knee, usually caused by jumping into a vigorous activity too quickly. This may include seemingly simple tasks such as bending down or twisting for an exercise that you are not accustomed to, or going for an unusually long run on a hard surface, especially with poorly supported or old shoes.
“Exercising your whole life is good … but if you’re just going to suddenly start, you have got to build that up very gradually,” says Professor Hope.
“Your body responds to exactly the right amount of stress. Too little exercise gives you poor tissue, too much exercise can injure tissue.”
Jumping into an exercise regime your body isn't used to can increase your chance of injury
The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults recommend gradually building up over several weeks to months, even if you only took a short break from a regular exercise routine. According to the Guidelines, fitness levels can drop in as little as two weeks if you stop being active.
So, if you have recently returned from a holiday or spent less time moving around over winter, start at a lower level of intensity than normal, regardless of your fitness level before you stopped.
Ask yourself why you’re exercising
There are many reasons to exercise. Staying active through exercise or sport is great for our body’s overall wellbeing and functioning, works wonders on our brain health, and is a fun way to spend time with family and friends. However, if your primary goal with vigorous exercise is to lose weight, think again, warns Professor Hope.
“If you want to lose weight, look at your diet,” he says. “Take a few steps back, always think about strategy over tactics.”
If you are trying to lose weight, Professor Hope suggests first modifying your diet – perhaps with the help of an accredited dietitian – then looking at other lifestyle factors, such as stopping smoking and reducing alcohol.
Choose the right exercise for you
No matter what your fitness level, always seek to protect your joints. “As you age, the ability of the tissues to resist normal stresses reduces,” advises Professor Hope. “You start exercising and you overload that tissue.”
He recommends low impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, rowing or using a cross trainer. “Nothing where you’re jumping or landing,” he adds.
For core or abdominal training, opt for a simple plank on your knees then gradually build up to your toes. Avoid doing sit ups, Professor Hope warns, which can strain your back, neck and shoulders.
Seek medical advice if you experience pain for longer than two days
When to seek help
Professor Hope says he has a two-day rule: “If they have pain in the joint that lasts more than two days seek health advice. If you’re going to someone who’s treating it and nothing changes after two weeks then there’s something wrong. That’s when you probably need to see a specialist.”
Keep in mind that if you have existing health problems, or you’re just starting out with a new exercise routine, you may benefit from a supervised or personalised routine from a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
According to the Department of Health, people with heart problems, chronic respiratory problems or a history of stroke, arthritis or risk of falls, for example, are recommended to seek health professional advice before commencing a new workout or activity.
Never too late
Regardless of age or health status, everyone should be doing some form of physical activity, and it’s never too late to start.
The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults state four golden rules that everyone should follow:
- Think of movement as an opportunity
- Be active every day in as many ways possible
- Dedicate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days
- For extra health and fitness, build to up to regular, vigorous physical activity.
Other tips include:
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after physical activity.
- Don’t forget to warm up with a brisk walk before getting started, and be sure to stretch your muscles (holding at least 30 seconds each) at the end of your exercise program.
- Minimise risk of injury by wearing supportive shoes.
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