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Tips for starting an exercise program

If you’ve decided to start running, biking, swimming or take up a new sport or activity, you’re not alone. According to a report by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, more than 47 million Americans run or jog at least once a week. Another recent study reports nearly 100 million Americans bike regularly.

“It’s never too late to pick up a new sport,” says Dr. John Lynott, orthopaedic surgeon at Geisinger Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Wilkes-Barre. “Teaching your body new skills promotes good health and keeps your coordination sharp.” 

In addition to the physical benefits, research has shown improvements in brain function from regular exercise.  
“However, it’s important to know your body’s limits and train wisely,” says Dr. Lynott.

Whether a hike, marathon or bike tour, here are some tips for going from couch potato to athlete.

Check your body

Before beginning any new exercise routine, it’s important to make sure you’re healthy enough for physical activity. This could mean a short jog to get a feel for the movement, or a quick trip to the doctor’s office for a physical

“All athletes should be aware of their limitations,” notes Dr. Lynott. “Especially if you have a history of heart problems or injuries. It’s always wise to get a checkup with your doctor before ramping up your physical activity.” 

You can also maintain good health by remembering to warm up before each workout, stretch afterward and stay hydrated all day long. 

Choose an attainable goal and start small 

Tying your goal to a specific race or milestone is a great way to stay focused and build a timeline. This also gives you the ability to choose a race that fits your desired length, time of year and venue. 

Importantly, you should increase the distance of your hike, run or bike ride at a slow pace and leave plenty of time to recover as you work your way up.

“The impact of exercise could cause inflammation in muscles and joints, especially if you’ve had injuries in the past or just haven’t done much physical activity,” explains Dr. Lynott. “It’s important to listen to your body and rest when you need to. Adding supplemental vitamin D to your diet has also been shown to improve bone health.”

The most common injuries associated with running include patellofemoral pain syndrome (or runner’s knee), Achilles tendonitis and shin splints, all caused by overuse of the muscles and joints. 

Chronic ankle sprains can cause more serious problems and may need to be evaluated.

Cyclists should be aware of potential damage to the knees, while swimmers should keep an eye on their shoulders

Diversify your routine

Keep your workout interesting. One-dimensional routines that only focus on cardio can cause your progress to slow and increase your risk of injury. 

“Strengthening one muscle group without supporting the others leaves you with uneven flexibility,” says Dr. Lynott. “That might cause you to strain the forgotten muscles and joints without even knowing it.”

Plus, studies have shown that athletes that mix regular weight training into their routine are able to run at maximum capacity significantly longer before reaching exhaustion, compared to people who only do aerobic training. 

With this in mind, you should consider practicing your primary sport around three days per week and do a different type of workout, such as weight training or restorative yoga, two days a week. 

“The most important thing is to get going,” Dr. Lynott adds. 

John A. Lynott, MD, is a surgeon who specializes in both orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine. His clinical interests include ankle injuries, from common sprains to debilitating arthritis, and their treatment through arthroscopy, ligament reconstruction and ankle fusion. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Lynott or another orthopaedic specialist, please call 800-275-6401.
Two women bicycling

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