Ask an Expert: How do I get started on an exercise program if I’ve been a couch potato all winter and spring?

Q: The weather has been so bad, I’ve basically been a couch potato. Now that the weather’s improving, I want to get out this weekend and get active. How should I begin an exercise program?

Answer from Eric Marchek, rehabilitation supervisor at Providence Sports Care Center:

When starting a new exercise program or increasing the intensity of the one you have, you should start cautiously and ease into it. Listen to your body and go at your own pace. If you place yourself in the category of “weekend warrior,” there are some special considerations to keep in mind.

After a stressful week sitting at the computer, your body and mind will thank you for getting out on the weekend to enjoy some activity. However, going on that 10 mile hike on the weekend when the longest walk you did all week was from your car to your office, is not the best plan. This may lead to injury and keep you from enjoying your summer outdoors. Go on smaller hikes first, then increase your hiking distance gradually so that your body can get used to what you’re asking it to do. The same goes for intense yard work, cycling, or any other activity you’re not used to doing.  

Staying hydrated
The heat of the summer increases our need for fluid intake during exercise. Hydration helps our body regulate temperature so that we can safely be outdoors and not overheat. Carry a water bottle with you and take small drinks several times over the course of your activity.

Avoiding heat stroke
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that can develop from intense exercise in the heat, where your body temperature is raised to the point that it cannot cool itself. This may cause damage to your brain and internal organs. It is a progression of two other heat-related illnesses: heat cramps and heat exhaustion. If you get muscle cramps, feel lightheaded, dizzy or overheated during exercise, these are signs your body is overheating. It is important to seek a cool area and rest. Drink cool liquids (non-alcoholic) to help you recover. Common symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature with lack of sweating, confusion, hallucinations, and rapid pulse. These require immediate medical attention. To avoid problems:

  • Avoid exercising in the hottest part of the day.

  • Drink extra fluids and avoid alcohol or caffeine.

  • Wear light-colored wicking fabrics to help keep you cool.

  • Avoid exercising in the heat altogether if you have heart or lung problems.

Best times to exercise during the summer
Early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are more moderate are the best times to exercise outdoors when the weather is hot. If you need to exercise in the middle of the day, choose an indoor activity.

Doing a gradual warm up prior to your exercise routine is a great way to get your body ready to work, but static stretching (holding a stretch in one position for 30 seconds or more) is not recommended prior to exercising. It may actually decrease your performance. Gentle stretching after exercising, however, can get your body ready for next time and help you recover faster. So, stretch after, not before.

First aid for minor injuries
Ice is your best friend after you suffer an injury. It helps reduce pain and inflammation to start the healing process. Rest the area and do not try to play through an injury. Adding light compression to the injured area, like with an ace bandage, and elevating the joint will help as well. If you have significant swelling or can’t put weight on your joint, seek medical attention to rule out a more serious injury.

Avoiding and treating sports injuries
At Providence Sports Care Center, we can assess people before they get injured to make sure they don’t have hidden problems that may lead to injury later. We will look at movement patterns, strength, motion and flexibility and identify any compensations or deficits that may be present.

To treat injuries, we have a variety of therapeutic interventions at our fingertips to individualize your care and aid you in your recovery. Our therapists specialize in treating sports and orthopedic injuries for adolescents and adults. In addition to physical and occupational therapy, we offer sports analysis for injury prevention and rehabilitation. This includes video analysis for cycling, running, swimming and throwing sports techniques. We offer full bike fittings and swim stroke analysis as well as golf posture and swing analysis in our multi-sport simulator. We also have orthopedic physicians and digital x-ray services on site.