It may be cold, wet or slushy outside, but that’s no excuse to put off exercise until spring. And now that the New Year’s resolution crowds have started to peter out, this is a great time to get better acquainted with your local gym or fitness studio – especially because CareConnect will help pay for your gym membership if you go enough times! (Get the details on this sweet deal for members here.) If it’s been a long time since you last worked out, though, it’s important to start slow to keep the intimidation level and risk of injury low. Physical therapist Daniel Vaknin, assistant vice president of the Northwell Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Network, shares these tips for protecting yourself from injury and burn-out. Get clearance
First things first: If you’re a man over 45 or a woman over 55 and you haven’t exercised regularly in years, get approval from your doctor before you begin any new fitness routine. “Your doctor knows your health history and can weigh in as to what you’re in shape to do,” says Vaknin, including the type of exercise or intensity level that’s safe for you. Also see your doctor first if you have a significant preexisting medical condition. Get a little guidanceYou may not have an interest in starting a long-term relationship with a personal trainer, but springing for several sessions will be well worth the cost, says Vaknin. (Some gyms even offer a free introductory session to new members.) “It’s important to have a qualified professional set up a routine for you based on your goals, and show you correct form and safe practices,” he says. “When people get hurt at the gym, it’s usually because they never learned the right way to do something.” Get warm
Most people think that they need to stretch before exercising, but it’s actually more important to do a little warm-up before going full-out, says Vaknin. Nothing elaborate is required -- a five-minute walk on the treadmill or an easy spin on the stationary bike will help raise your heart rate gradually and lubricate your muscles and joints, so you’re less likely to hurt yourself once you pick up the pace or intensity. (As for stretching, research shows that it’s most effective when your muscles are warm, so consider doing that after your warm-up – or at the end of the exercise session.) Get real
Just because you can (barely) lift a 50-pound dumbbell doesn’t mean you should start there. “You should only go as heavy as you can while still maintaining proper form,” says Vaknin. As soon as your posture or your technique starts to suffer, you’re no longer going to benefit in the same way—and you’re more likely to injure yourself as well. The same goes for jogging or running. If you’re training for a 10K or a half marathon, increase your mileage slowly, and finish each training session feeling strong. It’s okay to feel a little sore the next day, but if you’re unable to recover within two days, that’s a sign you may be progressing too quickly. Get going!
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, mood, mind and health, says Vaknin – studies have shown that it reduces the risk of chronic disease, improves your mood, helps you control your weight and increases the likelihood that you’ll be around for a good long while. So why not check out the gym or fitness club? You just might find a favorite new routine.