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11 Tips to Prevent Injury during Your Outdoor Activities This Summer

Summer is a time for fun in the sun, but injuries can take all of the pleasure out of the season. Exercise injuries and accidents can happen to anyone, from elite athletes to weekend warriors. These injuries can cause pain, reduced function, and even long-term damage that prevent you from working out.

The good news is that there are ways to avoid injuries and to decrease your risk for spending the entire summer recovering on the couch. Whether you go hiking, swimming, or simply helping a friend move, you can take steps to minimize your risk for injury when you take part in activities this summer.

1. Consult with Your Doctor Before you Work Out

Never start any exercise plan without first checking with your doctor. Your primary care provider can determine if you are healthy for the exercise you’d like to start. Your doctor can also recommend any modifications necessary to make your exercise program safer.

2. Choose Your Workout Carefully

Personalize your workout to fit your individual needs and expectations. Avoid high-impact exercise programs if you have arthritis or osteoporosis, for example, and opt for an elliptical exercise machine for an aerobic workout that does not stress your joints.

3. Learn and Use Proper Techniques

Form is everything when it comes to working out—using the proper technique helps you get the most out of your workout, while improper form can lead to injuries. Working with a trainer at home or in the gym is a great way to learn the right form. If you have a health condition that prevents you from moving normally, a physical therapist can help you tailor your workout or techniques to avoid injury.

4. Outfit Yourself with the Right Gear

Wearing the right clothing or using the correct gear can help reduce your risk of sports injuries; using the proper equipment can also improve the comfort and quality of your workout. It you plan on taking up bicycling, for example, helmets reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88%, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Researchers are working to determine how well shoes can prevent running injuries, but nearly everyone can agree that sturdy, comfortable sneakers can support the arches of your feet and cushion your heel to absorb shock.

5. Diversify your workouts

Focusing on just one sport can increase your risk of injury, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. While the risk is higher in young athletes because they lack the appropriate neuromuscular skills to prevent injury, the repetitive motions of engaging in just one type of activity increases the risk of overuse injuries. Engaging in a variety of physical activities can decrease your risk of injury.

6. Start Gradually

Resist the urge to jump into a new exercise program with both feet—the greatest risk of injury comes when you change an exercise program or add a new exercise. Walk at a brisk pace for just a few blocks for a couple of days before you try jogging, for example, or ride your bike on flat land before going off-road. Gradually increase the duration, speed, and intensity of your workout over the course of a few days or weeks.

7. Warm Up

Cold muscles and connective tissue are prone to injury, even if you are in excellent physical condition. Warm-up exercises gradually increase your heart rate and circulation, which improves blood flow to your muscles and loosens up your joints. Stretching or performing other warm-up exercises for 5 to 10 minutes stimulates blood flow and reduces stiffness. Warming up helps prevent injury if you should happen to overextend or twist a joint during exercise.

8. Stay Hydrated

Being active outdoors in the summer can increase your risk for dehydration. Physical exertion causes you to lose fluid through sweat, especially when outside in the heat, sun, and wind. Your muscles respond to the loss of fluid by tensing up, which can interfere with your athletic performance and increase your risk for injury. Dehydration can also cause muscle fatigue, which also increases your risk for sport-related injuries.

To prevent dehydration, drink a glass of water just before you start to exercise then take a few sips every 15 minutes throughout your workout.

9. Cool Down

As you finish your outdoor exercise, slowly decrease the intensity of your activity. Finish your workout with a slow 10-minute walk or gentle stretch.

10. Know When to Stop

If engaging in an activity causes pain, stop doing it immediately. Playing through the pain can prolong healing time and prevent you from participating in your favorite outdoor activities. Contact your doctor, trainer, or physical therapist whenever you experience abnormal pain or pain that does not improve. Get help right away if you feel dizzy, short of breath, or have chest pain.

11. Opt for Light Therapy

Light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), uses the energy of red light wavelengths to trigger beneficial changes in the human body. Healthcare professionals often administer light therapy to promote healing, but the treatment can also prevent injuries. Light therapy helps with warm-up through vasodilation, which means PBMT widens blood vessels so that more blood can flow to the muscles and other organs during exercise.

Light therapy can also reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and promote healing if you happen to suffer an injury that cuts your summer fun short. For more information about preventing injury during your outdoor activities this summer, consult with your doctor, physical therapist, trainer, or light therapy provider.

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