Health & safety – Look After Yourself While Exercising

Regular exercise can improve your overall fitness, health and even happiness … but not if you end up injuring yourself, or making yourself ill by doing it wrong. Here are some tips for getting the most from your exercise regime, and avoiding some of the more common mistakes.

First, remember to take it slow if you don’t currently exercise regularly, or are starting on a new exercise programme. Doctors recommend getting at least half an hour’s moderate exercise, five days a week — but if you’re just starting, begin gradually (for example with a five or ten minute walk each day) and build up to the suggested level of exercise over a period of days or even weeks.

Don’t forget to stretch and warm up before starting an exercise session, particularly for more strenuous or extended periods of exercise. In martial arts classes, for example, it’s common for sessions to start with 10 or 15 minutes of stretching and other warm-up exercises before the proper training begins. Runners and other athletes will attest to the dangers of pulled muscles if you don’t prepare for your exercise session.

Always consider your diet when exercising regularly, particularly if your intention is to lose weight. While your instinct may be to eat less, it’s important that you eat enough to provide your body with the energy it needs to sustain the activity if you are engaging in regular exercise. In short, you must have enough fuel for your body to burn. Don’t just think about how much you eat, but also look at the best ways to gain a healthy balance of minerals, vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates.

It’s also important to keep hydrated while exercising. Exercise, by its very nature, increases your body temperature and the natural way to cool down is to sweat and therefore lose fluid — around one litre of fluid for every hour of exercise. You should drink before starting to exercise and keep your fluid levels topped up while working out. Water is fine for moderate exercise or short sessions (up to half an hour), but for strenuous exercise or extended workout sessions, lasting longer than an hour, it’s worth taking a specialist sports drink for proper hydration.

If you have underlying health problems, always talk to your GP for advice about appropriate types and levels of exercise. In many cases, moderate exercise can improve the health and fitness of chronic sufferers but your doctor will advise if there are particular types of exercise you should avoid, or if you should limit the duration of exercise sessions.

Finally, it’s important to be aware of the advantages and risks of exercising while pregnant. Certain types of exercise can positively benefit pregnant women, helping to strengthen the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. However, it is a good idea to speak to your GP, practice nurse or midwife for advice, especially if you experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea or bleeding, or if you have a history of previous miscarriages or high blood pressure.

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