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Playing sports: How to stay healthy

Kids Sitting at the Gym

Injuries are an inherent risk for all activities and I’m often asked how to prevent them. The following are a few recommendations that can help you stay healthy when playing sports. 

Stay active year round. It takes your body time to gain the muscle strength and endurance it needs to perform. Think about how you feel when you return to activity following a long vacation or summer break. During that time, we may spend more time relaxing or lounging by the pool, so restarting activity often leads to aches and pains. Through regular activity, we gain muscle strength and endurance that keeps those pains away. Varying your activity will also help build strength in different muscle groups, further preventing injury. Everyone is busy, but you can be creative in how you incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Try adding a family bike ride on the weekend, walking your dog more frequently during the week or even parking a little further away from the store.

Be a good sport. Rules are in place to protect you and the other participants. Understanding the rules of the game and using the correct technique will decrease the risk of injury. The best chance of success is having parents, coaches and athletes reinforce these rules together. If we do not follow rules, the risk of injury can dramatically increase, especially in contact sports such as football and rugby.

Incorporate stretching as part of your pre-exercise routine. If you think of your muscle like a rubber band, the more elastic it is, the less likely it is to break. Your muscles work in a similar way.  If they are too tight, they can be injured as a result of the demands placed on them during activity. A common technique is to hold a position until you feel a slight pulling sensation and try to remain in that position for 30 seconds, repeating three times.

Stay well hydrated. Dehydration can lead to heat-related illnesses ranging from muscle cramps to heat stroke. Thirst is not an adequate indicator of your fluid level, so by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Try to focus on drinking fluids before, during and after exercise.

Unfortunately, you cannot prevent all injuries, but the above recommendations will help. The most important thing with exercise is to listen to your body and have fun.

Dr. Kristin Ernest, sports medicine physician