Take the First Steps to Fitness
Michael Chunn, MD, is a family medicine specialist at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown.
Q. I want to get more active. What do I need to consider before picking a sport, and how do I prepare myself to avoid injury?
A. First, congratulations on your motivation to become active. Making that decision is often the hardest step. Since you’re ready to get started, let's consider some common pitfalls to a successful venture into sports. You have identified two very frequent reasons people do not continue in exercise.
Choosing the right activity or sport can be overwhelming, or at least discouraging. If you didn’t play sports as a student, you may not know what to choose or how to play the sport that interests you. Do an online search or contact your local YMCA or community center to see what people in your area are participating in. Many levels of involvement are available for most sports, from beginner to elite competition. You may choose an individual sport, like cycling or running, or a team sport like soccer or ultimate Frisbee. Many find it easier to participate consistently if they have a team or “workout buddy,” but individual sports can be very rewarding for those who seek personal achievements.
It’s important to realize you may not choose the right sport the first time and it’s okay to find something different. Also, your interests may change over time, or your time or health may prevent you from enjoying some sports you once did. Don't be afraid to try something new.
Cost can be a determining factor. You’ll need to consider whether there are membership or participation fees associated with your activity and whether you need to purchase any equipment. Garage sales and second-hand stores are great places to pick up used equipment, but do your research before shopping as certain things are size- or skill-level- dependent. Online sites and discount stores are also good places for the beginner. You can always go for the highest quality equipment after you’re more certain you’re interested in the sport.
To minimize injuries, you need to know the physical demands the new sport will place on you both mentally and physically. Your sport may require a great deal of concentration to avoid injury. You may need better strength, flexibility or endurance to truly enjoy it. Consult with experienced and successful individuals about some of the problems you may face. Talk to your doctor about the physical demands of the sport you’re considering to determine whether your body is ready for the challenge and what it will take to prepare. Your doctor may recommend seeing a physical therapist or an athletic trainer to help you get ready to participate — and they are great resources if you do sustain an injury.
Good flexibility and good nutrition are the two most basic ways to prevent sports injuries. Flexible joints and muscles are necessary to allow your body to perform the physical challenges you are asking it to do. Lack of flexibility increases your chances for injuries such as sprains and strains, and puts you at risk for more serious injuries like broken bones. Strength and cardiovascular endurance are also important in sports. Once again, your doctor, physical therapist or athletic trainer can help guide you through the specific things you may need to focus on.
Nutrition is as important as flexibility, strength and endurance. Just as your car does not function well — or at all — with the wrong fuel, neither does your body. The right mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat, as well as adequate fluid intake, is necessary to keep your body working at its best. Your doctor, a nutritionist and online resources can be helpful in guiding you in this area.
You have made the first, and biggest, step, in showing interest in being active. Take the next step in your challenge by becoming informed and prepared so you can enjoy a lifetime of activity.
This information is for educational purposes only. Please talk to your physician for advice in all matters related to your health.