The latest research indicates that it may be possible to turn back the clock on physical fitness. After just two years of moderate exercise, according to one study, lifelong middle age couch potatoes had healthier hearts and higher oxygen levels. That usually means more energy. In fact, for people ages 45 to 64, regular moderate exercise (thirty minutes a day four or five days a week) had the same effect as “the more extreme exercise of elite athletes,” according to lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Levine.
The dramatic results may be limited to people in late middle age who exercise regularly, he cautioned. In the study, “exercising only two or three times a week didn’t do much to protect the heart against aging.”
If you believe you’ve been so out of shape for so long that there’s nothing you can do to improve your health, this study is obviously very good news. But before you take those first few laps around the jogging track, be aware of some overuse injury risks. People who have been sedentary for decades and suddenly begin moderate exercise programs are obviously significantly at risk for such injuries.
Overuse Injuries in General
The “overuse” moniker is a little misleading. For example, since you run using both ankles, why does only one develop tendonitis? Typically, there are mechanical issues as well. Some beginning runners take too few strides, or not enough, when running. Other people are genetically predisposed to certain kinds of injuries in certain areas of their bodies. In still other situations, the tendons and bones don’t get stronger as fast as the muscles.
Swelling, redness, inflammation, and mild loss of motion are the first telltale signs of overuse injuries. These wounds usually go through four phases:
Initial discomfort that ends completely during warm-up,
Discomfort that fades during warm-up but reappears during cool-down,
Worsening discomfort throughout the entire activity period, and
In other words, if the discomfort is mild, goes away rather quickly, and stays completely gone, you probably do not have an overuse injury. If any of those three things are not true, keep reading.
Specific Overuse Injuries
On the whole, these wounds are not terribly serious. But if you are just starting out, they may be just the thing to disrupt early momentum and derail the entire fitness program. Some of the more common injuries are:
Shin Splints: No one knows precisely what these injuries are. The most common theories are inflamed muscles and torn muscles. In any event, do not run through the pain. Instead, rest the area and apply ice two or three times a day for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. There are also a number of compression sleeves that will reduce fatigue in lower leg muscles, and that’s often exactly what is needed.
Stress Fractures: Fatigued muscles often cause stress fractures as well, because when the muscles cannot carry the load, the body transfers weight to the bones, which develop hairline cracks. Whereas bone fractures usually cause pain and loss of function, stress fractures usually just hurt. Rest the area and apply ice frequently.
Achilles Tendonitis: The body’s longest tendon stretches from the heel to the calf. It’s most pronounced at the back of the foot, and that’s also where the tendon is most likely to become inflamed, most likely due to improper pushing off. In terms of recovery, rest, ice, and stretches usually do the trick.
Other overuse injuries include foot blisters, runner’s knee (Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or PFPS), and IT Band Syndrome (another knee injury that normally affects distance runners). Blisters usually get better by changing shoes. Go to a running shoe store and ask for help. Rest, ice, and a compression sleeve usually address knee overuse injuries.
It may be possible to turn back the clock on fitness, but be sure you don’t do it all at once.