After a brutal winter, your body and spirit are probably longing to head outside for a workout, but if you haven’t been hitting the gym, don’t be so quick to hit the pavement.
“Whatever it is that you like to do for exercise, you must face the fact that you are out of shape. Being indoors for the last several months changes the way you exercise and your body’s response, so getting back outside, remember that you need to start slow,” says Robert Shalvoy, MD, of Affinity Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “You can’t jump into the same type and volume of exercise you were doing at the end of the fall.”
Instead, he suggests you slowly build up to last season’s exercise level, remembering to warm up with low-intensity exercise that helps improve blood flow and flexibility in the muscles. You can do this inside with exercises that mimic the movements of your activity, whether it be tennis, golf or cycling. A physical therapist or personal trainer can help you identify these exercises.
For safe workouts in general, Shalvoy suggests:
- Warming up for five or 10 minutes to diminish your risk of injury.
- Dressing appropriately so you are not too warm or too cold. Try exercise clothes that wick away moisture from sweat to maintain a balanced temperature.
- Hydrating, which is especially important as your body gets used to the exercise and the temperatures outdoors rise.
- Going at your own pace.
“The best exercise for your body is that which challenges you both in speed and intensity, allowing you to gain from the benefits of exercise without entering into the realm of injury,” Shalvoy notes.
Pay attention to stress on your joints, especially as you age. Warm ups, again, help by improving the elasticity of your joint tissues. You can also try flexibility training with an emphasis on stretching to reduce the stress on joints and reduce injuries and pain.
“Joint pain and stiffness and muscle pain are common with exercise programs,” Shalvoy explains, adding that, “Normal soreness after exercise should resolve itself within a day or two and can be helped by stretching and light exercise loads during off days.”
While ice packs applied for 20 minutes at a time can help with swelling, if you have sharper pains, joints that lock or give way or symptoms that last more than 10 days, you should see a sports medicine specialist.
“A sports medicine specialist has expertise in exercise and exercise-related injuries. They also typically understand and prioritize a patient’s desire to continue to exercise and even advance their level of training,” Shalvoy says.