Regular physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, protecting us from a host of modern ills such as heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers. Sport and exercise are great ways to accumulate regular physical activity, but what about when they do us harm?

From team sports to general exercise, all physical activities carry some risk of injury. But before you retreat to the safety of the couch, it’s important to remember that the benefits far outweigh the risks, and avoiding physical activities altogether is likely to be the riskiest option of all.

Research suggests that regular sports and exercise can reduce your risk of death by 20 to 40%. However, it’s important to consider how you can minimise your risk of injury, so that you can continue to reap the health benefits of exercise for many years to come.

How can I reduce my risk of injury?
Luckily there are some tried and tested methods for reducing your injury risk, and experts suggest up to 50% of sports injuries can be prevented. Follow these tips to keep yourself injury free:

1) Stretch: Having good flexibility decreases your risk of injury, so incorporate stretching into your training regimen. Make sure your stretching is planned and purposeful, as stretching just before exercise may not do much for you and can actually hinder performance.

2) Always include a dynamic warm up: Muscles respond to heat and will have a greater tolerance to stretching when warm. An appropriate warm-up that mimics sports-specific movements will enhance blood flow, increase muscle elasticity, and help reduce sports injuries.

3) Stay strong: Regular resistance training has been shown to reduce sports injuries in both adults and young people, and it has the added benefit of improving sports performance. Incorporate age-appropriate resistance exercise into your weekly training plan.

4) Don’t go too hard too soon: Recent evidence suggests injury risk is essentially a function of “training load errors” (in other words, training too much or too little). This view suggests it is rapid or excessive fluctuations in training load that predisposes individuals to injury, rather than just training too hard. Therefore, progress gradually and if you have time off due to injury or illness, don’t return to pre-injury training levels too quickly.

5) Guided exercise from a physiotherapist can help speed recovery: When we injure ourselves, the body produces inflammation. Inflammation is a vital part of the body’s immune response. It is the body’s attempt to heal itself after an injury, defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, and repair damaged tissue. However, the body often overreacts to injury and produces more inflammation than is required. Research shows that graded exercise after injury can have anti-inflammatory effects and help tissues heal more quickly quicker and become stronger.

6) Don’t get injured in the first place: Unfortunately, one of the strongest predictors of sports injury is having suffered the same injury previously: So one of the best things you can do to prevent your risk is to ensure you follow injury prevention guidelines early, as it may become harder to stay uninjured once an injury occurs. For more detailed information on specific injury prevention and treatment, get some professional advice from a qualified physiotherapist.

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