Though both our minds and our bodies need regular exercise, for many of us, physical activity is much more of a challenge than mental fitness. In fact, in many cases, a physical exercise routine is quickly discarded after a period of inactivity, because it’s much easier to pick up the remote than it is the free weights. So, after an injury-related interruption, no matter how mild or severe that injury is, returning to a physical fitness regimen is not always easy.
Injury prevention is crucial to stay with the routine. But since injuries are almost inevitable no matter what we do or don’t do, we must be prepared to deal with them.
Start with a Baseline
Men over 45, women over 55, and people of any age with any chronic health condition should always check with a physician before starting any physical exercise program. This visit is an excellent opportunity to not only talk about your medical condition but also set some realistic and meaningful fitness goals.
Before the visit, bone up on some basic medical information, such as understanding blood pressure by age. The more information you have, the better your decisions will be. Target heart rate is also very important, as is respiration rate.
Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Sudden movements and changes are the best way to get physically hurt because our bodies simply are not designed to handle that kind of physical stress. By the same token, an elevated heartbeat when your body is at rest is a shortcut to hypertension, and no one wants that.
A good warm-up should be about five or ten minutes of light jogging or easy bike riding. When you feel warm, and your breathing is ever-so-slightly labored, you’re probably warmed up. Or, you can take a quick pulse measurement and determine your heart rate.
At the tail end of your workout, a cool down should do the exact opposite. When you no longer feel flushed, your breathing is back to almost normal, and your heart rate is down, you have truly finished your exercise routine.
Online fights have broken out all over the world over the question of whether and when to stretch, and all sides of this debate have very valid evidence-backed points. But almost no one would disagree that flexibility is necessary for injury prevention and that stretching just feels good.
To that end, light stretching both before and after exercising probably cannot hurt and most likely will help. A few pre-exercise knee bends and some post-exercise light yoga poses may do the trick.
There are two very good reasons to vary your workout regimen. First, repetitive muscle use often leads to tendinitis and other overuse injuries, and second, there is some support for the idea that muscle confusion (varying a workout pattern) yields better fitness results.
Another reason, although it may not fall into the “very good” category, is that mixing things up is often a good way to stay engaged and stay motivated.
A biking/running/swimming routine is a good way to start. As long as you keep exercising for approximately the same length of time for each activity, be it thirty minutes or whatever, the cardiovascular benefits are about the same.
Take at least one or two days off a week, whether you feel like you need the time or not. Just like work vacations have mental benefits, rest periods have physical benefits.
Most people have mild endorphin withdrawal after a day off, so they hit the track again with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
A moderate physical exercise program is one of the best ways to both extend the number of days in your life as well as the quality of those days, making exercise the closest thing to a Fountain of Youth that most of us will ever find. The longer you can stay in this routine and avoid injury, the happier you will be.