Have Fun and Be Safe when Exercising Outdoors - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on April 01, 2013

Have Fun and Be Safe when Exercising Outdoors

Except for a few cold snaps, this past winter was pretty much a repeat of last year – mild and warmer than usual. Those who are eagerly waiting spring’s warm weather won’t seem to mind one bit. A warmer end to the winter season allows everyone with a fitness-related New Year’s resolution to get a generous head start.

Spring’s symbolism is often interpreted as rebirth. So as you undertake your fitness ambitions and start spending more time outside, remember to be safe and keep these tips in mind when exercising outdoors.

With nicer weather there is a tendency to overdo it, especially if you’ve been hibernating all winter. To avoid overuse injuries, it is best to ease back into your activities by following the “10 percent rule.” “Never increase your workouts more than 10 percent per week,” says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D., chief of the Section of Orthopedic Surgery at Delaware County Memorial Hospital, best-selling author of the FrameWork series of fitness books, and chief medical officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “This would include the amount of weight you lift, or the distance you run or cycle. This gives your body time to adjust and adapt to the new stresses and strains. Also, be sure to warm up adequately before activity. This includes breaking a light sweat with an aerobic-type exercise, followed by some stretching.”

Nutrition is critical for athletes who want to reach peak performance. “A healthy breakfast is most important, as it provides fuel for the entire day,” DiNubile says. “Also, after a hard workout, there is a brief window of opportunity for optimal recovery. Low-fat chocolate milk is an excellent choice for a post-workout snack, as it provides the perfect balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein, essential for muscle recovery.”

Complementing nutrition, hydration is extremely important during exercise. Staying hydrated before, during, and after exercise helps your body move through the experience of exercise with ease. “Hydration is important during all exercise, and a good rule of thumb is to drink as your thirst dictates or ad libitum,” says David Webner, M.D., co-director of the Crozer-Keystone Sports Medicine Fellowship Program and team physician for the Philadelphia Union. “Over-hydration has caused a lot of problems in the last 20-30 years with the appearance of hyponatremia – a condition when an athlete over-drinks, and the body can’t process the extra water/fluid, so they develop dangerously low levels of sodium in the cells,” Webner says. “This can potentially lead to coma and death, so drink to your thirst level, but do NOT over-drink.”

Give some thought as to what you will wear before going outside. “It makes sense to dress appropriately for the season,” says Frank Giammattei, M.D., chief of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “You will want to dress warm enough when starting out so that you are not too cold and do not strain muscles. If it is cold outside, it’s best to dress in layers so that you can shed them if you start to get too hot. If you are running, go a short distance in one direction, then come back to your starting point so that you can shed a layer in that area and proceed with less bulky clothing on. If it is hot out, don’t wear dark clothing. Instead, wear a shirt and pants or shorts that are made of synthetic fibers that wick sweat away and allow for more efficient evaporation from your body.”

“A proper warm up and stretching before beginning any sporting activity is very important,” says Joseph Stellabotte, M.D., Taylor Hospital sports medicine physician. “If you are going for a run, do some light jogging for a few minutes then stretch— emphasizing hamstrings, calf muscles and back stretching. For more aggressive sports that involve cutting and running activities, like tennis, basketball and lacrosse, you should do all lower-extremity stretches—those that target the hip, knee and ankle.”

Exercising outdoors will most likely have you in the public eye. With that said, you should take the necessary precautions to make sure you’re safe doing so. Always run facing oncoming traffic, alternate exercise routes, refrain from wearing headphones, cross at cross walks, exercise with a partner, wear reflective clothing, carry identification, tell someone where you’re going, and always be aware of your surroundings. If you are venturing out onto bumpy terrain, such as a park, watch for rocks and other debris that could cause you to trip.

Despite your best plans and preparation, you could sustain an injury. “If you suspect a muscle injury (strain), the best thing to do is use ice, elevate if there is swelling, do gentle stretching and then see an orthopedic or sports medicine doctor within a day or two if symptoms persist,” Stellabotte says. “If you sustain a joint injury (sprain) and have an appropriate brace or support, crutches or a cane on hand, use these to protect the joint, elevate and ice until you see a doctor. If you can take anti-inflammatory medicine, (e.g., Advil, Aleve or ibuprofen) for pain you should do that as well.”

The approaching warmer weather will have you naturally motivated to get outdoors and exercise. Just remember to always be vigilant and safe, but most of all enjoy yourself!

To find a Crozer-Keystone sports medicine physician who is right for you, call 1-877-CK-MOTION (1-877-256-6846).

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