Twelve ways to increase safety when starting an exercise program.
One of the things that I hear most often from women wanting more guidance in their programs is that they want to know how to exercise safely. But to clarify, this can mean many things to different people (e.g. the design of the program, type of exercise, outdoor safety etc.). Keeping general safety considerations in mind, here is a run down on some of the basics to think about when you’re getting started.
If you are interested in having support, I would recommend that you start by working with someone who is certified and qualified to design a comprehensive program. Depending on where you live, qualifications may vary. You should look for a minimum of an undergraduate degree in exercise science and a national level certification. You will also want to look for someone who has experience and qualifications that are specific to women over 50.
Let’s assume you are taking on a program on your own. Here are 12 ways that you can help increase how safely you are approaching exercise:
- Get cleared for take-off. This is so important, especially when you are first starting out or returning to exercise after a long break. See your doctor first if you have any reason that you think exercise might not be safe for you or if you have any unstable medical conditions. If you don’t know whether or not you are at risk, take the ePARmed-x survey to find out.
- Establish a baseline: There are different tools that you can use to assess your fitness. And if you hire someone who doesn’t do a formal assessment prior to prescribing a program, start your exercise plan by running the other direction.
- Find the right gear: Supportive shoes designed for your activity are the best investment you can make in your new program. Visit a local retailer with a specialization in your needs (think walking, running, or pedorthotist).
- Warm-up: Yes, even for walking. Allowing your joints to transition from being immobile to moving through a full range of motion helps to lubricate and nourish the area properly before you begin. I know it’s tempting, but don’t skip the warm-up.
- Don’t workout while under the weather. Sometimes when you’re on a roll, it can difficult to miss a day or two for illness. Exercising while sick can impact your form, make you feel worse, and might send the signal to your brain that this exercise thing is just temporary 😊. Don’t worry, you really won’t lose much fitness over just a few days. Just make sure that you plan to start-up again as soon as you are feeling better.
- Follow a plan: Make sure that whatever exercise you take on has a plan based on your baseline assessment. With no plan, you have no way to measure results, and no way to progress safely going forward.
- Start slowly, move up gradually: Sometimes your cardiovascular system can feel good, really quickly into exercise. Although you may feel great, your musculoskeletal system needs time to catch up. Going out too hard, too quickly can be a perfect recipe for what’s called an overuse injury. Go easy and be patient. 😊
- Be reasonable in your expectations: It’s fantastic (and advised) to have a goal to work towards. If you have a big goal, break it down and think of all the small wins that you can make first.
- Concentrate on form first: Before increasing your program, length, distance, or time, make sure that you have dialed in good form (e.g., proper posture/ body alignment throughout movements). This could be your form while walking, doing strength-exercises, doing yoga poses, or swimming. Form is the queen when it comes to getting the best results and preventing injury.
- Stay hydrated: As we get older, our sensation of thirst when exercising (and our kidneys ability to conserve water) is not as good as when we were younger. Some medications can also increase our risk of dehydration. Best policy: carry a water bottle with you when working out.
- Plan for tough days: Some days you can do all the right things and still feel crappy. Take heart, it’s totally normal. Set your expectations to know that exercise will sometimes be hard, some days you won’t be motivated, and some days you won’t feel great. Love your body right through those rough patches and exercise anyway.
- Know the signs that you might be in danger: Make sure to stop exercising immediately and get help if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- chest pain
- light headedness
- shortness of breath
- sharp leg pain
- difficulty with speech
The reality is regular physical activity reduces your risk of so many chronic diseases and illnesses, and for most healthy adults exercise is perfectly safe (and recommended). Keep your risk lower by following the above 12 points but most of all, enjoy yourself out there!
Your sister in health,
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