If you’re looking to take charge of your heart health and overall wellbeing, exercise is one of the best ways. But as a chiropractor, I often see patients present to my practice demoralised after having acted to start improving their health, only to get an injury that prevents them from reaching that goal.
It can take a lot of willpower and motivation to get into an exercise program, and the last thing you want is for a simple and avoidable injury to derail you. Whether you’re returning to exercise after an absence, or starting from scratch, here are some ideas to help you get into it safely.
1. Know your limits
Starting to exercise again, even after a brief break, can be challenging. It is often frustrating, especially for those who have exercised a lot in the past, to acknowledge that you aren’t the same sprightly 18-year old you used to be. One of the main causes of injury in exercise is beginning a new program too quickly. I see so many patients in my office who have attempted to go from couch potato to Olympic athlete in one week and regretted it. You need to gauge your capabilities slowly and in a controlled manner, so you know your limits and your body can get used to activities it isn’t accustomed to.
2. Speak to a professional
Start with your primary healthcare provider, who should clear you for exercise after any absence for medical reasons. Next, get a personal trainer or find a facility where someone can assess you and start you at the right level. They should also make sure your form is correct when doing exercises or using equipment. If, for example, you are starting Pilates, find out if you can have a one-on-one session and assessment first, so you know how to do the exercises properly and are aware of your limits. This may mean having to fork out some extra cash in the beginning, but it will be more than worth it in the long run.
3. Footwear and clothing
Make sure you have comfortable, exercise-appropriate clothing. Your clothing can be integral to preventing avoidable injuries. For example, pole dancing is a very popular form of exercise at the moment, but inappropriate clothing can lead to bruising and grazes from equipment rubbing on your skin. Your footwear can also play a large part in avoiding injuries such as lower back strains and plantar fasciitis. Even for those starting with a gentle walking routine, comfortable shoes with good arch support and heel cushioning to absorb shock can be vital.
4. Nutrition and supplements
Proper nutrition can help your body recover quicker. For example, carbohydrates can help give you enough energy to exercise at your best, while protein can provide the right building blocks for muscle growth and will help you avoid muscle spasms and cramping. The one supplement I always recommend to patients is magnesium, which assists in preventing muscle cramps, keeping nerves healthy and can even help with sleep.
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Your body needs water to survive, and when you exercise you lose a lot of that hydration. Drinking a glass of water before you exercise and small amounts regularly throughout will help keep you hydrated, maintain kidney health and also prevent muscle cramping. Try to avoid drinking too many sports drinks. While they can provide vital electrolyte replacement in more advanced athletes and on very hot days, in most people they just add unnecessary artificial sweeteners or sugar into the diet. These drinks can also overload your system with electrolytes, especially if you are sweating out all the water your body needs to dilute them in your kidneys. If you are going to consume sports drinks, make sure you are drinking plenty of water alongside them.
6. Warm up
This may mean a brisk walk before you start running, or some gentle elliptical use or rowing before you start training your upper body. Even some tai chi before a yoga or Pilates class is useful for getting the circulation going in your muscles. Increased circulation and primed muscles are much less likely to get injured once a vigorous routine starts. Avoid passively stretching, especially before you have warmed up your muscles, as this will have limited benefit and may even lead to you straining “cold” muscles.
7. Get those “niggles” seen to early
Don’t ignore those early warning signs that your body is taking strain. Your body is doing so much for you, thank it by taking care of it. Develop a relationship with a physical therapist, be that a chiropractor, physiotherapist or osteopath – someone who knows you, your body and the journey you are on and can help you get there. When you start to exercise, little things can pop up; the quicker you get them sorted out, the faster you can get back to becoming a healthier, happier you.
The moral of the story is to stick to the basics. Do them well and the rest will take care of itself. Listen to your body, challenge it, but also be patient with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t be either.
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