Before you grab the gear, hit the gym, or pump some iron, you better put on that thinking cap and think about safety first. Exercise can turn into a few weeks laid up with an injury if you are not careful. Or worse, death can result from foolish mistakes or avoidable catastrophes. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2008, over 300,000 emergency room visits were due to a baby-boomer getting hurt while exercising, condition called “boomeritis”. Here are some tips to help you avoid being a statistic.
Get your doctor’s approval: Those of you who participated in sports in school know that a sports physical was required before you could join a team. In fact, sports physicals are known to save lives of those who were unaware of a sinister heart murmur or irregularity. Everyone should get a physical before starting a new exercise routine or beginning a new sporting activity. This exercise safety tip could save your life.
Familiarize with Exercise Machines: Exercise equipment is getting more and more complicated with electronics, pulley systems, and mechanisms. Being unfamiliar with the equipment is an injury waiting to happen. Instead of taking the risk, ask someone who knows the equipment, like a friend, a personal trainer, or a salesperson, how to use the machine first. Besides, you will look like a fool if you don’t know what you are doing.
Use Safety Equipment: Some sports do not require machines, but do require safety equipment like helmets, wrist guards, knee pads, shin guards, mouth guards, and pads. Safety equipment is not just for sissies. Safety equipment is for everyone with half a brain.
Drink Plenty of Water: Whether the environment is hot or cold, water is essential for life. How much water is enough? My favorite rules of hydration that I learned when I fought fire are: if you are not peeing, then you are not drinking enough; if your urine is dark, then you are not drinking enough; if you feel thirsty, then you are already dehydrated; if you are not sweating or feel light headed, then you need to stop, cool down, and drink. This safety tip is important and too often ignored which can lead to deadly consequences.
Warm-up and Stretch: A preliminary, prerequisite warm-up helps the body prepare for exercise. The muscles need to turn-on and become flexible. The heart rate needs to get up to speed. The blood needs to be recruited to the areas that need it the most. If you do not know a good preliminary routine for your particular activity, I recommend a time-tested book called: Stretching by Bob Anderson. The routines are sport specific and easy to follow. For those who wish to avoid “boomeritis”, a warm-up is not to be skipped.
Provide a Good Base of Support: Exercise is safer when the body is well supported. Support can be found in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes your only point of contact with the ground is through your feet, like tires on a car. Thus, good supportive shoes are essential for many forms of exercise. Additionally, good biomechanics, like standing with your feet shoulder width apart, provide the body a base of support. And strong muscles, especially the leg and butt muscles, are pillars of strength for the entire body. Falls, strains, and sprains can all prevented by having a good base of support.
Watch your Speed: The speed in which you do something can lead to disaster. The faster you go the more likely mistakes will be made. Some worry about speed early on in the learning curve of a new activity. That is a mistake. Speed comes from practice, familiarization, and muscle memory. Slow down Think about what you are doing before you become a statistic.
Give yourself Variety: Many injuries are from overuse. Like a biceps tendon that becomes inflamed from doing bicep curls every day. Or a knee tendon (the patellar tendon) that becomes painful from doing squats or playing tennis every day. Activity variety allows some parts to rest while others do the work and no one part is doing all the work all the time. Besides preventing overuse injuries, variety keeps life interesting.
Set a Sustainable Pace: A sustainable pace is the one you can keep up safely without crashing or “hitting the wall”. A sustainable pace keeps you within your physical and mental tolerance levels. A sustainable pace prevents injury and burn-out, in life and in exercise.
Recover: Even with adequate hydration, good support, a sustainable pace, proper speed, and a good warm-up; you need to recover from exercise. Recovery allows for the body to rejuvenate, repair, and rest. Sleep + food + water + relaxation = recovery.
These exercise safety tips are not just about preventing exercise related injury and death. These safety tips are not even just about exercise. These tips can be applied to life in its entirety. Live safely, exercise often, and share these tips.
Specialist in Pain Management and Spine Rehabilitation