As springtime blossoms, it seems all living creatures—groundhogs, ladybugs, even couch potatoes—start to stir. If you’ve spent months indoors, not working and stretching your muscles, it’s wise to ease into spring activities gradually to avoid injuries, aches and strains.
UR Medicine sports medicine specialist Dr. Katie Rizzone offers advice for safely rousing our joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles from a long winter’s sleep.
If warm, sunny days are inspiring you to get active again, remember that sudden athletic activity can lead to things like acute tendon and muscle injuries, especially in adults over age 40. Even non-sporting activities like gardening and yard work can lead to injury if you’re trying to do too much, too soon. If that’s the case for you, you can treat minor injuries with RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation.
But a little preparation can prevent injuries from happening. Here are a few steps to help ease you back into shape.
- Stretch. Get in the habit of doing simple stretches every day. Real Simple magazine offers some basic stretches for the major muscle groups and your spine. You can even do stretches at your desk.
- Think “low and slow.” If you did no exercise over the winter, start with gentle walks to get your body going again. Whatever exercise you choose, do shorter periods of activity at a lower intensity; if you were doing 30-minute walks or runs last summer, start your spring regimen with 15 or 20 minutes at a slower pace.
- Check the “fitness” of your sports gear. Whether you run, play tennis, or do aerobics, you need good-fitting, supportive athletic shoes designed for that activity. Runners should replace their shoes every 300 to 500 miles, and walkers should do so about every 500 miles. If you go for a 30-minute walk five times a week, plan to buy a new pair of walking shoes each year.
- Try something new. Consider adding different activities into your routine. Rather than riding your bike five days a week, try biking two days a week, and do some weight training in between. You’ll work different muscles by varying your routines, which makes your whole body stronger and cuts boredom, too. You could try yoga, Pilates, or tai chi.
- Tap new resources to help you stay fit. Exercise classes are a great way to learn new skills. If joining a fitness club isn’t an option for you, community centers offer a low-cost alternative. You could also borrow exercise DVDs from your local library or follow exercise classes on TV or online. Just be sure to pace yourself and match the program to your current fitness level.
- Watch your heart rate. The American Heart Association offers guidelines on heart rate targets during exercise, based on your age and gender. Check with your doctor to find out what your goal should be for your maximum heart rate to get the best benefit, especially if you have been inactive and have other medical problems.
- Gather a group. Working out with friends and family makes exercise more fun and helps you stay motivated.
- Just get going. Walking is the easiest way to become active again and can be the gateway to expand the exercises you enjoy. If you’ve been inactive or less active than usual over the winter, take advantage of spring to develop new habits that you build on during the warmer months and that you can continue to enjoy all year ‘round.
Katie Rizzone, M.D., a non-operative sports medicine physician at UR Medicine and an assistant professor of Orthopaedics at URMC. She specializes in musculoskeletal ailments including strains, sprains, tendonitis, fractures, sports concussions, and arthritis, as well as medical problems unique to the female athlete, and runners. Her research focuses on the long-term effects of young athletes overtraining and specializing in one sport.