If you’re looking for a dependable way to get healthy, exercise is hard to beat.
Exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and early death. Want even better news? It’s cheap, straightforward, and almost anyone can do it.
But it’s not always clear how to get started. What type should you do? How much is too much? And how do you prevent injury?
In this article, we’ll cover 5 tips related to safe exercise. Because the last thing anyone wants is to feel worse after working out.
1. Warm up every time
Yes, you’ve heard this before. But trust us, it’s important to warm up before every bout of exercise.
Studies show that warming up our muscles helps them relax, lowering our risk of injury. In a nutshell, this primes our body for more strenuous activity.
Dynamic warm-ups are most useful here. They involve movements similar to the ones you’re about to perform during exercise. For example, you might do some gentle lunges and squats before a run. Or you might lift some light weights before moving onto heavier ones.
Cooling down is also helpful. Try holding static stretches to lengthen and loosen your muscles and connective tissue.
When it comes to exercising safely, warming up and cooling down are essential basics to get down.
2. Know your limits
Without being aware of your limits, you’re in danger of overdoing it. Especially if you haven’t exercised for a while, build up gradually to minimise your risk of injury.
Perhaps starting slow means taking a brisk walk each morning. Then again, this could be a stretch for you. For instance, those who are older or less mobile may want to start with lower-impact activities like swimming or chair-based exercises.
Another way to know your limits is to abide by the following rule: always use proper technique, even if it means doing less during each workout.
It’s better to do five press-ups with good technique than 20 with poor form, which would increase your risk of injury. So when you notice your posture breaking down, it’s time to call it quits for the day.
3. Mix up your routine
As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. This also applies to your exercise routine.
“Overuse injury” can happen when you take on too much physical activity too quickly, particularly if you’re focusing on one type of exercise. To combat this, it’s wise to vary your workouts so you don’t overload any single muscle group. This practice is called “cross-training”.
Cross-training makes sense given how intricate our bodies are. If we maintain our physique in a single way, we’re bound to neglect something. For instance, we might focus on strength to the detriment of flexibility (and vice versa).
That said, try to strike a balance between:
- Aerobic exercise that gets your heart going
- Resistance training, such as weightlifting
- Mobility training, such as yoga
4. Rest without mercy
When you think about a well-constructed exercise programme, what comes to mind? Someone pumping iron day in, day out, or coming home after a run drenched in sweat?
Chances are, you didn’t picture someone getting an early night. But the truth is, recovery is integral not only to boosting your athletic performance, but also to exercising safely.
This is hardly surprising: along with nutrition and exercise, optimising your sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. There’s evidence that sleep deprivation lowers not only our motivation to exercise, but also increases our risk of injury.
So when it comes to planning your weekly exercise routine, incorporate plenty of rest and recuperation.
5. Watch your heart rate
Your heart is a muscle. And like any muscle, it needs physical activity to stay healthy. But like any muscle, it can also be overworked and injured.
During exercise, aim to stay within your target heart rate (THR) to increase your fitness safely. Your THR is usually between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate.
One study found that when recreational hockey players kept exceeding their THR, recovery suffered and there was a higher risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).
So it’s generally sensible to stop exercising if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or ill. To learn more about safe heart rates during exercise, you can check out this guide by the British Heart Foundation. And if you have a heart condition, consult your doctor before changing your fitness routine.
The Numan take
When it comes to building healthy habits, it's hard to top regular exercise. But if you don't do it right, it can also be pretty harmful to your body. Make sure you start slow, know your limits, mix things up, and get your Z’s in. Not only will this help you avoid injury, but it'll also set you up for physical fitness over the long haul.