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And always remember the golden rule of exercise safety: start slowly, and build up the intensity and duration of your exercise gradually. Trying to make up for lost time, or go from couch potato to exercise maven overnight, is a prescription for problems.
Getting Started: The Right Gear
Many injuries and setbacks occur because people don’t take the time to get themselves well-equipped for their exercise. Make sure you:
Wear shoes that fit well and are capable of providing the right kind of support for your activity and body type. If you’re a runner or walker, get your feet and gait analyzed, and get the right type of shoe for you—this service is usually provided free by stores that specialize in running shoes. Read "If the Shoe Fits, Wear It!"
Wear appropriate exercise clothing. Fabrics that absorb sweat and remove it from your skin are best; loose-fitting, light weight cotton is also fine. Women should wear supportive sports bras. But no one should EVER wear rubber or plastic suits or belts—these prevent your body from dissipating heat properly and can lead to serious health risks from overheating and dehydration.
Use protective gear: helmets for biking or high-contact sports; knee and elbow pads for skating; reflective clothing and/or lights for evening exercise; sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats for outdoor exercise.
Avoid things like ankle and wrist weights. They can alter your normal movement patterns and increase the risk of injury. If you must add weight to your workout, a weighted vest helps distribute weight more evenly and allows you to move more freely and normally than weights attached to your extremities.
When to Stop: Warning Signs
A certain amount of discomfort during exercise is normal and inevitable—after all, you are challenging your body to do more than it is accustomed to. And you can expect to have some sore muscles after a vigorous workout; often the soreness doesn’t show up until a day or two later, especially with strength training.
But pain and other symptoms that occur during exercise can be warning signs that something is wrong. You should stop exercising right away if you:
Have pain or pressure in the left or middle part of your chest, or in the left side of your neck, left shoulder or left arm
Feel dizzy or sick
Break out in a cold sweat
Have muscle cramps
Feel sharp pain in your joints, feet, ankles, or bones
Notice that your heart starts racing or beating irregularly
If you start to experience these problems during high intensity aerobic exercise, it is best to immediately slow down. Allow your heart rate to drop gradually before stopping completely, since an abrupt stop can cause problems with blood circulation and fainting. However, in cases of severe and sudden pain, stop immediately, seek help, and follow up with your doctor. Continued ›
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant.
See all of Dean's articles.
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