Shape Up Safely

Regular exercise can improve your health and longevity. But doing too much too soon or not taking proper precautions can cause injury.

Start safe

If you haven't been active for a long time, are overweight, smoke, have a high risk for coronary heart disease or some other long-term health problem, see your health care provider for a medical evaluation before beginning an exercise program.

Start slowly, and gradually increase the time or intensity of your workout as you become more fit. Over time, work up to 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. If you can't exercise for 30 minutes at one time, break your physical activity into two 15-minute or three 10-minute intervals.

Put together a workout that includes aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility exercises. Aerobic exercises include activities such as biking (stationary, road or mountain), walking at a moderately fast pace, dancing, jogging and swimming. Strength training can be done with weights or resistance tubing. Stretches increase flexibility. Always begin your workout with a warm-up and end with a cool down.

Stay safe

Wear the right shoes for your sport. A good shoe should have proper heel and mid-foot support, or you could develop shin splints or sprain your ankle. You need a special shoe for aerobics just as you do for tennis, walking or running.

If your sport requires safety gear, always use it properly. Wear a well-fitting helmet when required or appropriate.

When stretching, begin slowly and carefully. Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds, then slowly release it. Never stretch to the point of pain, always maintain control and never bounce a muscle that's fully stretched.

Drink enough water to prevent dehydration. Drink one pint of water about 15 minutes before you start exercising and another pint after you cool down, more if the weather is hot. Have a drink of water every 20 minutes or so while you exercise.

Try not to rely too much on one activity. Mix up your workout with a variety of activities. That will keep boredom at bay and help prevent overuse injuries. Also, schedule regular days off from exercise.

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