It’s wound into the idea that our bodies will do what we want, when we want. But for most of us, that’s just not the case.
Dr. Tina Atkinson sees plenty of evidence of people overdoing it. She’s a sports medicine physician at Medicine in Motion in Dartmouth and is the primary care sports medicine physician for the Halifax Mooseheads. Her patients are both elite athletes and average people looking to stay active and fit.
“In the general population, you tend to see both acute and chronic injuries,” she says. Acute injuries happen suddenly – like a sprained ankle or a concussion – while chronic injuries occur over a longer period of time. “I see a lot of knee, shoulder and ankle injuries, as well as chronic knee pain, hip pain and back pain. The typical injuries an athlete gets tend to be more acute.”
She often sees people with acute injuries because they’ve started a new program and aren’t ready for what it requires of their bodies – programs like the P90X Workout, CrossFit, or even just running.
“People aren’t physically ready to do that sport or type of exercise,” Dr. Atkinson says. “And because we get weaker as we get older, we might not be as fit as we once were. A lot of people get injured because their body is not able to tolerate the kind of demand they’re suddenly putting on it.”
Dr. Atkinson suggests these tips for people planning to ramp up their physical activity:
Check the shape you’re in. Be realistic and ask yourself, “Am I ready to do this activity?” Be honest about your fitness and your strength level going into an activity. If you haven’t exercised since your high school football days, start slow and build up your workout intensity over time. That’s key for starting more intense activities like running.
Warm up. This wasn’t what most people were taught in gym at high school. It’s good to start slow and slowly increase. Dr. Atkinson calls this a dynamic warm-up, or activation, to get all of the muscles in your body ready to move. Don’t just focus on just the muscles you know you’ll be using in your workout – your whole body needs to be warm and ready to move.
Be realistic. Keep in mind that you’re not as young (or as limber) as you once were. Most patients Dr. Atkinson sees are over 35 years old. “I see a lot of thirtysomethings who are saying, “I’m starting to fall apart,’” she says. Set realistic goals that you’ll be able to achieve given your current fitness level.
Aim to follow current Canadian fitness guidelines that call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 30 minutes five times a week (you can do that in small increments – it all adds up!). Included in that must be 70 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, where you are unable to hold a conversation while doing it. Also, plan for two sessions of muscle or bone strengthening exercises or lifting weights at the gym.
“If you’re not hitting those targets, it’s not reasonable to expect yourself to go out and play hockey or run a 5K,” says Dr. Atkinson. “You can’t expect to run a marathon in May at the Bluenose if you start training in December.”
Remember, all activity counts – even if you go camping, ATVing, or hiking. “It’s important for your life to have a basic amount of fitness,” says Dr. Atkinson.
Note: Consult your family physician before embarking on any exercise or weight-loss program. Always follow your physician’s advice.