Surveys investigating Irish people's New Year's resolutions consistently rank "to exercise more" as one of the top three pledges made. This is great news because exercise is medicine and, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults should aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Unfortunately, physiotherapy clinics across Ireland will attest to the fact that late January and early February sees an influx of people seeking help, having suffered an injury. These injuries include lower limb tendinopathies, and muscular strains, and are often sustained as a result of well-intentioned New Year's resolutions.
The following 10 tips aim to minimise your risk of sustaining an injury and help you to keep your New Year's resolution for a fitter and healthier 2020.
1 Warm up to prepare
The research is unequivocal when it comes to warming up prior to exercising. Studies investigating sport-specific warm-up programmes such as the FIFA 11+ have shown injury rates can be reduced by as much as 70pc.
The aim of a warm-up is to raise your heart rate and prepare the neuromuscular system for performance. Depending on the activity to be performed, your warm-up might consist of a brisk walk or jog and a series of dynamic exercises including squats, lunges, and single leg balance exercises lasting 5-10mins.
2 Cool down and stretch
This is the opposite of a warm-up and the aim here is to gradually lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and stretch out the main working muscles used in the exercise session. Include a walk or light-jog and some longer duration hamstring, quad and calf stretches.
3 Exercise gradually
Any new exercise should be introduced slowly. Our bodies are excellent at adapting to physical activity but this takes time and any effective exercise programme will have graded progression at its core.
To guide us here, we can use the "10pc rule". For example, walking or running, times or mileage, can be monitored and each week could be increased by 10pc as you try to build your fitness.
4 Allow enough recovery time
This is particularly important if you are thinking of joining the wave of different HIIT-style workout regimes (high-intensity interval training). HIIT sessions are a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, build muscle strength and burn calories, however they place a higher demand on muscles and tendons.
Studies have shown tendons (such as the achilles) can take up to 72 hours to recover from a bout of high-intensity exercise in untrained individuals and therefore if you are new to running or HIIT classes, you should avoid consecutive days of same to reduce the risk of getting injured.
5 Embrace variety
It follows from the above key tip then that we should adopt a varied exercise regime. Working your muscles and joints across a range of exercise disciplines helps avoid repetitive loading of the same areas and develops a more balanced musculoskeletal system.
6 Strength benefits
Just two sessions per week of strengthening exercises has been shown to reduce the risk of acute injury by 30pc and overuse injury by 50pc.
You don't need any fancy equipment or a gym membership to add strengthening exercises to your weekly exercise regime, instead you can do a body-weight circuit at home including exercises such as squats, press-ups, side planks, and calf raises.
7 Nutrition know-how
Carbohydrate-rich foods help to fuel exercise performance and protein-rich foods will help with muscle repair post-exercise. We should aim to drink two-three litres of water per day to ensure optimum hydration.
Be smart about your training to avoid the sprains, strains, and other injuries that can occur with exercise
8 Sleep to recover
Several processes such as the release of human growth hormone and muscle protein synthesis occur while we sleep and these are vital to promote adequate recovery from exercise. Studies investigating the sleeping habits of athletes have showed that those sleeping less than seven hours per night for a two-week duration have a 50pc greater risk of sustaining a new injury.
9 Correct sports gear/equipment
It is important that you wear and use correctly-fitting sports gear and equipment. In clinic, we are often asked about the best running shoes and/or the need for orthotics. Only a very small percentage of people actually require specialised shoes or customised orthotics. The most up-to-date evidence suggests that a person should choose their running footwear based on comfort and then gradually build up their walking/running mileage in same.
10 Technique is important
If you are new to resistance training or the HIIT-style workouts mentioned above, then technique is important. Do not sacrifice proper technique to lift heavier weights or to keep up with others in a class, as this can lead to injury.
⬤ Shane O'Brien is Senior Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Beacon Hospital's new Sports Medicine Lab