How to get back in—or begin— the fitness game
standing among various bodybuilders and gym frequenters who know their way around a bench blindfolded and lift weights as though dumbbells are natural extensions of their sizable limbs. This might fill you with inspiration, tempting you to put away that 15-pounder in lieu of something more in league with other gym occupants. If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, or ever, now is a wise time to rethink that strategy.
Starting a new exercise routine for those more than 40 years old requires a humble approach and a slow beginning. To avoid injuries like strained muscles and tendons, torn cartilage, and stress fractures, I advise beginning by loading joints gradually, with overt attention to warm-up, stretching, and massaging sore muscles. And workouts should always be separated by a day of rest and recovery focusing on hydration and nutrition.
Keep it slow and easy in the beginning to build a foundation of muscle awareness and confidence rather than overexerting yourself from the checkered flag. Consider a 20- to 30-minute run to start. As you progress, both intensity and duration can ramp up and your workout can reach 60 to 90 minutes. Running, for example, can begin with a 30-minute brisk walk three times per week for two weeks. Increase to a 30-minute jog three times per week for two more weeks, then slowly increase time and effort as you go. Once you’re used to your new routine, you can carefully increase the difficulty of your regimen. This slow progression technique allows your muscles, tendons, and joints to accommodate to substantial weight loading, which will help prevent injury.
As for injury, pay attention to pain that does not resolve with rest, swelling of a joint, and pain that feels like pin-pricks when touched. Soreness is one thing, but do not try to “run through the pain” if it doesn’t go away in 5 to 10 minutes during a run or workout. Remember, exercise is supposed to be fun and rewarding, so enjoy yourself and the results will come.
Bradley Thomas, MD, attended UCSD, is a certified sports medicine specialist, and works hard to keep everyone playing a little longer. He specializes in sports injury prevention, minimally invasive surgery, and to date, is one of a select few orthopedic surgeons performing cartilage replacement.