Jumping Into Spring … Safely!

Beautiful sunshine, long walks in the evening, beach volleyball, hiking, playing with our kids, tending to our gardens: these are all things we can get excited about, now that the weather is changing for the better.  We have been cooped up inside for far too long and now it’s time to enjoy what our beautiful city has to offer!

Physical activity is extremely important to having and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are just some of the many amazing benefits of physical activity at any age:

Age 0-18:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Improve development and movement skills
  • Increase fitness
  • Build new skills
  • Build healthy heart
  • Build confidence
  • Do better at school
  • Social interaction
  • Enjoyment and happiness

Age 19-40:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Maintain fitness
  • Reduce stress
  • Prevent health conditions later in life such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks

Age 41-64:
Protect against:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Some types of cancer
  • Type II diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Unhealthy weight gain

  • Improve memory and concentration
  • Improve self-confidence
  • Reduce stress

Age 65 and older:

  • Protect against chronic disease
  • Reduce risk of premature death
  • Maintain functional independence
  • Maintain mobility, balance and flexibility
  • Improve and/or maintain healthy body weight
  • Improve memory

With all of these benefits associated with physical activity, our natural desire to get out and get active in the spring is also a really good thing! So what could possibly go wrong? Just one thing: Going too fast from very low levels of activity to very high levels. That can cause the kind of typical “spring injury” that I encounter all too frequently in my practice this time of year. And getting one of those “spring injuries” ends up doing the opposite of what we want and what’s good for us: It slows us down during the most fun and healthy time of the year.

So here are my FOUR TOP TIPS for being healthy and injury free this spring and summer:

1) Gradually increase your level of activity. When the sun comes out, it’s easy for us to spend hours cleaning up our gardens or getting on our bikes for the first time since October. As we come out of a sluggish winter, doing these activities right off the get-go can result in significant muscle soreness in the days after, and can eventually lead to greater injury if we are not careful. Whatever your activity of choice is, begin slowly and with a limited time frame in mind. For example, garden for only 30 minutes rather than a couple hours or bike for 30-40 minutes for the first couple weeks. Gradually increase your length and intensity of activity by about 10% per week.

2) Stretch those muscles! A large number of injuries are due to a lack of muscle flexibility and reduced muscle function as a result. When you exercise, your muscles are in constant use. Spending at least 10 minutes stretching daily will allow your muscles to repair and improve your overall flexibility, reducing your risk of injury.

I recommend doing a few minutes of stretching after a light warm-up (5-10 minutes of light cardio) and then a longer session of stretching immediately after exercise (5-10 minutes). I also recommend stretching after doing housework, gardening, going for a leisurely walk, playing with children, or other physical activity.

3) Fuel yourself with the right foods. Spring is the perfect time get rid of old habits and pick up some new ones that will help you get healthier. We are so lucky to live in a place that offers numerous weekly farmers markets where you can buy fresh, local produce, meats and other goodies. Use these fresh ingredients to have balance meals and snacks that include lots of vegetables and fruit, lean protein and healthy fats (from nuts, seeds, avocados, and/or healthy oils). Try getting creative with fresh salads, vegetable-rich stir fries and light soups.

4) Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Drinking enough water is crucial to your health and will help keep you your muscles from cramping as you get more active. I recommend having a an 8 ounce glass of water first thing in the morning and sipping on water all day long (about 8, 8oz glasses total). You may want to drink a 2-3 more glasses on the days you exercise or are out in the heat, but be careful not to over hydrate yourself, either. This can result in “water-intoxication” or “hyponatremia” and can be very serious. However, it is extremely rare and usually appears in those engaging in long bouts of intensive exercise where electrolytes are not replenished properly but excessive amounts of water are consumed.

So let’s all follow these four easy steps and have a fabulous, safe and healthy spring! For more information, please consult with your trusted healthcare professional.

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