How Can I Exercise Safely, Without Risking Injury?

Some people are afraid to exercise for fear of injury; this may be due to the fact that they have been injured in the past.

However, if you take the necessary precautions you can reduce the likelihood of injuries.

Moderate intensity lifestyle activity, such as walking or doing the housework usually carries less chance of picking up an injury. But remember to build your activity levels up gradually if you are new to exercise .

How much exercise do I need to do?

Avoiding injury during exercise.

Some exercises carry a lower risk of injury than others.

In general, you're more likely to pick up an injury if the exercise is harder and has more impact on your joints (playing Squash, for example).Therefore, something like walking is ideal because the likelihood of injury is very low.

If you are planning on starting a regular exercise regime, it's a good idea to consult your doctor first. After that, it's up to you to look after yourself by taking the following into account:

  • Over-exertion. New exercisers are often unaware of their physical limits. Don't try too hard, if you haven't exercised for a long time then excessive exercise will place a strain on your heart, lungs and muscles.
  • Warming up. Start with 5-10 minutes low-level aerobic activity each time you exercise. If it's a cold day then warm up for longer. This will pump blood to the muscles, allowing you to exercise more effectively; it will also prepare you mentally. Concentrate on warming up those muscles you will be using during the session.
  • Stretching. After warming up, stretching exercises prepare your muscles for what is in store. Stretching is most effective when it is done slowly, holding each stretch for 10 seconds or more.
  • Dehydration. This is a real problem, especially on hot days. Exercise depletes water rapidly, so make sure you drink plenty of it before, during, and after you finish. Thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration, so drink even when you aren't thirsty. Don't drink alcohol, caffeinated drinks such as cola and coffee before exercising because these actually encourage fluid loss.
  • Pain. If you feel a sharp pain during your routine, stop exercising. This is your body's warning that you may be about to injure yourself, dress with a bandage for extra support.
  • Cooling down. As you come to the end of your session, taper it off by exercising in a slower and more relaxed fashion for 2-3 minutes before you finish. Cooling down properly helps your body temperature stabilise and reduces the chances of injury still further. Follow the cool down exercises with some brief stretching exercises.
  • Resting. If you are very unfit, it may be necessary to take 48 hours rest after a session. This allows your body to recover properly. As you become fitter, you can reduce this to 24 hours. All new exercisers will feel a certain amount of muscle stiffness following the first workout. Don't be discouraged, this is normal and is due to the fact that you have not used those muscles in a while. The next time you work out, this stiffness will be much less uncomfortable, and soon it will disappear entirely.
  • Food. Don't exercise on a full stomach, this may feel uncomfortable and nauseous. Leave at least an hour for food to digest properly before engaging in any exercise. You'll need to eat something after finishing exercise to replenish your blood sugar levels. It is not a good idea to eat high-sugar, high-fat food though – eat fruit such as an apple or banana instead.
  • Of course, safety is as dependent on external factors as internal ones – so you also need to keep a check on:
    • The weather. If it's cold, wear layers and take them off one-by-one as your body starts to warm up. If it's hot, be careful of over-exertion and dehydration, and wear sun-block outside. If it's wet, watch your step – the ground may be slippery.
    • Footwear. If you are doing a lot of jogging/walking, a comfortable pair of shoes is invaluable. The shoe should have adequate ankle, heel and arch support so that it cushions your foot, also make sure that it has enough tread on the bottom to reduce your chances of a slip.
    • The environment. Exercise in a safe location. You may like to exercise with friends if you feel more secure doing this, especially during dark evenings or mornings.