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AS we get older, we become more vulnerable to injuries, in part because we are less agile than we used to be, and we have also lost some of our former bone and muscle mass, says the October 2013 issue of the Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

“Recovery from injury can also slow with age - it can take longer to recover from a small injury, and the injured areas remain vulnerable during the recovery period,” says Dr. Eric Berkson, an instructor in orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Sports performance Center.

Dr. Berkson offers a list of some of the most common exercise-related injuries:

• Sprains - injuries to ligaments, the tissues that connect bones to one another

• Muscle strains - injuries to muscles or tendons, the tissues that connect muscle to bone

• Tendinitis - inflammation of a tendon, often due to overuse

• ACL and meniscus tears of the knee - a rip in one of the ligaments that helps stabilize the knee or cartilage that cushions the knee joint

• Rotator cuff tears - rips in the groups of muscles and their tendons that hold the arm in the shoulder socket

The health letter offers 10 precautions to follow when you work out, to avoid getting laid up for days - or even weeks - with an injury:

• Talk to your doctor - Before starting any exercise program, you should first check with your primary care provider who can determine whether you’re healthy enough to exercise, and what, if any, modifications you’ll need to make to your program.

Dr. Berkson advises, “Exercise programs should be customized to the individual whenever possible to account for any limitations and ongoing medical conditions.”

• Choose your workout carefully - Non-impact exercises, including swimming or using an elliptical machine will provide aerobic conditioning without stressing your joints - high-impact exercise programs aren’t ideal for women with conditions, such as arthritis and osteoporosis, cautions Dr. Berkson.

• Learn the proper technique - Before starting any exercise program, always learn the correct form - such as the proper squat form: knees and toes point forward, the chest is lifted, and the back is neutral; common mistakes made when doing a squat include arching the back, overextending the knees and turning the toes in.

Learn the right form by working with a trainer at home or in the gym, or consulting a physical therapist to help you tailor a workout to your health conditions and physical capabilities.

• Get the right gear - Buy a pair of sturdy, comfortable sneakers that provide good arch support and have a cushioned heel to absorb shock.

Wear loose, comfortable clothing that gives you room to move and breathe.

• Start gradually - Start slowly - “The greatest risk of injury comes with changing an exercise program or adding a new exercise,” Dr. Berkson says.

For instance, if you’re cycling, set the bike’s controls on the lowest speed and tension, and pedal for just a few times - gradually increase the speed and intensity only when you feel ready.

• Warm up - Cold muscles are more injury-prone - “A proper warm-up can improve blood flow to the working muscle and reduce stiffness, potentially lowering the risk of injury,” says Dr. Berkson.

Your warm-up should be active - meaning that you walk or do dynamic stretches, such as arm or leg lifts, for five to 10 minutes.

Avoid passive stretches in which you assume a position and hold it, because they can lead to muscle tears.

• Stay hydrated - Try to drink a glass of water before you exercise, and then take a few sips of water every 15 minutes throughout your routine - when you work out, you sweat, which means you lose some of the essential fluids your body needs to take you through your exercise program.

• Cool down - Finish your workout with a slow walk or gentle stretch for five or 10 minutes to cool down and maintain flexibility.

• Vary your workouts - Even if you love yoga, alternate it with other programs, such as dancing, tennis or water aerobics - the variety will work different muscle groups, prevent boredom, and give your body a chance to recover between sessions.

• Know when to stop - Never work out to the point of pain - if an activity hurts, stop doing it right away.

“Playing through pain can often prolong your healing time and take you away from the game or exercise you enjoy,” Dr. Berkson says.

“Remember to seek the advice of a medical professional whenever pain seems abnormal or is not improving.”

If you suddenly feel dizziness, shortness of breath or chest pain, get help immediately.

While following all 10 steps outlined above should minimize your chances of getting injured, no preventive strategy is foolproof - if you do wind up with a sprain or strain, here are some tips for treating it at home:

• Ice it - Right after the injury, apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, about once an hour.

Cover the ice with a towel to protect your skin from the cold.

Reapply the ice about four times a day.

After 48 hours, you can put heat on the injury if the warmth feels good.

• Wrap it - Wrap the injured area in an elastic bandage - the bandage should be snug, but not too tight.

• Rest it - Avoid using the injured area until it heals.

• Relieve it - Take an over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, to bring down swelling and reduce the pain.

If your doctor says you should not take NSAIDs, acetaminophen can help relieve aches and pains, concludes the health letter.

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