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Healthy living: get clicking!

Posted - Aug. 17, 2004 at 7:20 a.m.



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If the Olympic flame has rekindled a desire to compete or at least get back into shape, you're not the only one. It happens with all major sporting events. People are inspired by the athletic feats and go out and buy new gear, new equipment and new athletic club memberships, sometimes to end up not at the finish line but in a waiting room for an orthopedic surgeon, doctors said.

Trainers and sports physicians praise the effort, but they do offer a few words of caution.

"Everyone always gets motivated by big sports events, especially the Olympics, but you want people to stay healthy and to stick with it," said Dr. John Xerogeanes, director of sports medicine at the Emory Orthopedic and Spine Center.

Many athletes and former athletes don't realize how quickly their bodies lose their skill and strength when they stop a training program, said Forrest Pecha, former trainer for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team. "Even with our Olympic skiers, we'd give them about a month off, and then we'd start them over again real, real slow."

Xerogeanes recommends a 12-week plan with interim goals at four and eight weeks.

"The small goals are important for a sense of victory," Xerogeanes said.

Remind yourself of that when you hear the drumroll for the national anthem. RUNNING Sprinting generally is for athletes already in good shape. If you start from scratch, build up a strong running base. Walk for a few days. If you have no pain, run for about five minutes on about the fifth day. If that feels OK, add in sprint work but no longer than five minutes. To build up, alternate sprint work with walks of equal time. If you want to run rather than sprint, skip the track work and build up distance by adding about 10 minutes each week. Run for an amount of time, say 30 minutes, rather than mileage. Aim for 2 miles by the end of a month. TENNIS, BASKETBALL AND OTHER REC SPORTS Many recreational sports require a higher level and cannot be mastered quickly. While each sport has skills unique to it, conditioning is a common requirement for all. Experts advise getting in good shape first through a walking or running program. Add weight work three times a week. Seek out an instructor for tennis. Many people try to learn the sport on their own, only to develop bad habits that become hard to break. For team sports, find a gym or rec department nearby and join in --- after you've done the proper conditioning. WEIGHTLIFTING Instruction in proper technique is essential, doctors said, and the risk of injury from bad form or overuse is high. Seek the help of a trainer or instructor at the gym, particularly if you have never lifted weights before. Even then, start very slowly. Do not begin a weightlifting program if you have a history of muscle or joint pain without consulting a doctor. Do no more than a set of 10 repetitions for each muscle group. SWIMMING Because swimming uses so many muscles, it takes longer to build up time and distance. Alternate laps with walking in water. Kickboard a few laps, then swim again. The number of laps you swim will be determined not so much by how many you want to do but how many you can. If you swim freestyle and tire after two laps, switch to backstroke, which will allow you to breathe easier. After swimming on your back for a lap or two, see if you can add another lap freestyle. Again, exercise for a longer time rather than a longer distance. BEFORE YOU START > Start exercising about 20 minutes a day. If it's been a long time since you've exercised --- more than a few months --- walking is best. > Build up gradually, no more than 10 additional minutes a day. > Don't worry about weight loss. If you stick with an exercise plan, it will happen gradually. > Don't exercise if you are in pain. The old adage "no pain, no gain" has been replaced by "no strain, no gain." Muscles need to be stressed to build up strength, but they should not be hurt to do so. > Wear proper clothing, especially shoes. Don't wear street shoes for walking. > Stretch for all sports before and after exercising.

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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