If you play any sort of sport or do regular exercise, from golf to running, or from football to skiing, you will most probably already be aware of the potential for injuries to occur (it happens to us all at some stage).
We’ve all experienced a twisted ankle, or cuts and grazes from a fall, and anyone who says that they have never once pulled a muscle is perhaps not being entirely truthful.
Injuries are all too common in sport and general exercise. You could say they’re a fact of life, in fact. If you take part in a sport, or undertake regular exercise such as running or cycling, you’re more than likely to injure yourself at one time or another.
Thankfully, most of these injuries will be pretty minor. The majority of them will heal within a couple of days, or at most a week, and won’t even require a trip to the doctor’s surgery. But that does not mean we should just shrug our shoulders and label them as inevitable.
If we do, we risk turning a minor injury into a permanent one, which could lead to something more serious, and could even require surgery.
There are, of course, some simple steps you can take to largely prevent injuries when exercising. Most of these are common sense and easy to implement.
Before we get on to the best ways to stay safe and healthy, let’s first demolish some of the old wives’ tales surrounding exercise.
We have all come across the ‘expert’ in the gym. He’s the one who has all the gear (lycra clad) - the latest tech gadgets, the most expensive equipment or clothing and the bag full of supplements - yet he seems to spend most of his time in the bar.
This person offers anyone who will listen plenty of advice on how to get the best from their exercise routine, yet has little actual knowledge based on fact.
Then there’s the ‘couch expert’ - often a friend or relative, who hasn’t done an hour’s exercise for 20 years, but has bags of advice on how to get the best out of it.
They are the people who will, for example, tell you not to drink water while you are exercising, as it will give you cramps. This is untrue, and could even be dangerous. You need to stay hydrated at all times, particularly in hot weather, so you should be drinking as much water as you need, before, during and after exercise. In fact, staying hydrated is essential and could even prevent injury.
Then there’s the advice about when and where to exercise. Some people will tell you that it’s only good to exercise in the morning, or the evening, or at three o’clock in the afternoon. In fact, while there may well be optimum times of the day for exercising, these are best left to the professional athletes to work out and stick to. Mere mortals will benefit from exercising whenever we can fit it into our hectic lifestyles.
Of course, there’s also the old chestnut about some types of exercise being better for us than others. As a good rule of thumb, as long as your heart rate is raised, it’s good cardio - so a brisk walk in the park, if that is what you enjoy, will do just as well as five minutes on the rowing machine.
While we’re talking about bad advice, let’s not forget the massive industry built up around the so-called benefits of protein shakes, supplements and ‘special’ water. These are all based upon often wild claims about how these dietary supplements will somehow transform our bodies or make exercise more effective. In truth, as long as you are eating a varied, healthy diet, you will reap little or no benefit from these products.
As with most things in life, the key to preventing injury and getting the best out of exercise is very simple at heart. Most of it comes down to common sense.
The most important thing to remember if you wish to avoid injury while playing sport is to wear the correct protective gear. There are now plenty of high-tech products on the market which are specially designed to protect our most vulnerable areas, such as our heads, knees and elbows, in specific sports, for example snowboarding, cycling or playing rugby.
These protective braces, helmets and pads will take much of the impact of any fall or collision, enabling us to play on.
Other good words of advice include making sure you warm up your muscles before any exercise. Although there is some debate over whether or not stretching makes a difference, most experts agree that some gentle warming up exercises help ease your body into activity and prevent pulled muscles and other injuries.
In a similar vein, it is generally advisable to build up any activity or exercise gently, over a period of time. Again, this is common sense - nobody in their right mind would start off a regular running routine by trying to run a marathon on day one. Instead, start slow and easy, even combining stretches of running with walking, and build up the length of time gradually as the weeks progress.
It’s also advisable, especially if you are taking up a new sport, to get lessons. This not only means you will know the rules of the game, whatever it is, but also enables you to learn how to play it properly. Believe it or not, being taught how to do something means you are less likely to do it wrongly, which is, of course, a common way to sustain an injury.
Last but not least, don’t play or exercise when you are injured or tired. You’ll only end up harming yourself or aggravating an existing injury. Rest is as important a part of exercise as the exercise itself. As soon as you feel tired, stop and take a break. Your body will thank you for it.
Some weird ones
Although we’ve said that you shouldn’t listen to every piece of advice you’re given, because some of it will be not worth listening to, there are, of course, some strange things you will hear, which will be worth a bit of research.
For instance, who would have thought, ten years ago, that people would be wearing gadgets that monitor their heartbeat, count their steps and even measure the oxygen in their blood? Yet here we are, and every other runner seems to be wearing just such a device. It is even thought that some of these weird devices may be able to prevent a heart attack, by alerting us to the signs that one may be approaching.
Other technological advances may seem strange, too, but could actually help you get the most out of your exercise routine and could even make you a better athlete.
One example of these is toe spacers, which, much like those spongy contraptions to help you paint your toenails, are designed to space out your toes, with the aim of returning them to their pre-high heels state. Able to be worn under shoes, they are being praised for the effect they have. Those who have used the spacers claim that they can reverse the damage done by modern shoes, aligning the toes back to their correct, natural, state.
So it’s clear you shouldn’t dismiss every piece of advice, just because it may sound strange. Instead, learn to listen to your instincts, and do your research first before committing to buying anything.