Now that the snow and ice in Toronto's parks is melting and, hopefully, the warm weather is here to stay many people are looking to head outdoors to get back into shape. The cold weather along with the holidays means many have not been exercising for months, have been eating more, and have gained a few extra unwanted pounds. So before you strap on your water bottle and start sprinting up the hills, here are some basic tips to make it your fitness endeavours smart, safe and enjoyable.
Treat yourself to a new pair of running shoes.
Whether you are running or walking, running shoes are lightweight and provide the support that you will probably need. I could spend a whole article talking about appropriate footwear, but basically the amount of support you need depends on the amount of walking/running you will be doing, and the amount of “flexibility” of your feet. What a lot of people do not realize is that the midsole, which provides much of the support breaks down with wear and with time. After six months to a year, the shoe has lost much of its support even if it has not been worn for a long time. And although many think that more cushioning in their shoes is best, this usually is not the case; most people need a stability running shoe.
Start your exercise with a 5-10 minute warm-up, and finish with a cool-down.
Starting your exercise session with light-intensity activity gets the body ready for exercise. This gets more of your blood into circulation so it can carry the oxygen and fuels to the working muscles and your heart. This makes the same workout feel more comfortable and less like work. It warms up connective tissues, such as ligaments and tendons, to help prevent injury. Similarly, bring your body gradually back to rest with a cool-down of the same duration. These are important for safety during a session of exercise, but are often skipped.
Exercise at a safe comfortable pace.
You have not exercised all winter long, do you expect you can start off with wind-sprints? No. That old slaying “no pain-no gain” does not apply here. For many sedentary people, brisk walking is enough of a challenge to get all the benefits of aerobic exercise. For these people starting off with sprinting, for example, is uncomfortable and makes it less likely that they will stick with it long term.
Furthermore for these people there are very little further health benefits while injuries are more likely. If walking is too easy then add short intervals (30-60 seconds) of jogging interspaced within your walk. A good guideline is the “Talk Test”. If you are able to talk during the exercise then you are at a good pace. If you are gasping between groups of words then slow yourself down. If you are able to sing, then it is time to progress for sure.
Your progress should be gradual.
If you consider yourself “out of shape”, you might need to start off with as little as 10 minutes of exercise. If so, try a few sessions throughout the day. They add up, and research shows that they are comparable to exercising continuously for the same amount of time (trust me, that was my graduate thesis topic). Over time, you can increase the amount of exercise, but limit the increase to no more than 10% for the whole week. When you are ready, it is generally better to increase the duration of exercise than the intensity.
If you do get injured, get professional treatment.
Some of the common walking or running injures at the beginning of an exercise regimen are: plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, patellofemoral syndrome (runner's knee), iliotibial band syndrome (ITB syndrome), hamstring strain/pull, stress fracture, etc. These injuries might take a few weeks of exercise before they show up. They are often caused by old foot wear, not warming up, progressing too fast (see the above tips), or problems with joints motion and/or muscle imbalances. These injuries can stop you from exercising and enjoying the outdoors so do not let them linger or get worse. If it is not going away after about a week, if you are experiencing it earlier in your exercise, or you feel the pain later that day or next morning then get it examined by a qualified health care professional. You should have a proper examination, the diagnosis explained to you, a course of treatment including rehabilitation exercises to help prevent it from coming back.
Spring is a great time to get active and take advantage of the outdoors. Walking or easy jogging can be very enjoyable and will provide all of the health benefits of aerobic exercise. These general tips and guidelines should help you to get kick-started for spring fitness in a safe and enjoyable way.
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