Thanks to India’s cricket team’s many bruised and broken players, all of us are familiar with joint injuries, sprained ligaments, fractures, dislocations, muscle strains and cramps that plague them each season and are then used to excuse their humdrum performance on the field.
Most of these injuries, however, can be avoided. Apart from the rare injuries caused by falls or collision, most sports injuries occur because of poor training practices, overuse, bad technique, skimping out on stretching and warm-up exercises, or simply not being in shape. In other words, if players get hurt on the field, they usually just have just themselves to blame. The best prepared team has the fewest falls, both literally and figuratively.
Repetitive strain injuries strike people like us as much as professional players. Much like carpel tunnel syndrome (painful wrists caused by keyboard overuse) or spondylosis (stiffening of the spine because of sitting hunched over a workstation all day), repetitive injuries make overused muscles tight, causing the body to develop imbalances in strength and muscle coordination. Left untreated, these injuries get reinforced with use and, over time, become severe enough to need surgical correction.
The way out is to work on building your overall fitness and flexibility to strengthen and stabilise the muscles in the body’s midsection, which includes the abdomen, lower back and spine. And you don’t need bosu balls, core boards and foam rollers to give you a tough and flat midsection. Just moving the back, abdominal and hip muscles as much as possible through the day works as well to improve agility. It works a bit like yoga, where most postures require you to maintain your balance and gently stretch your muscles a little further each day. Since strengthening your core works on all the muscles needed for everyday tasks, it lowers your chances of pulling a muscle while walking, lifting or stumbling as you go about your day.
You can step up core activity by weaving a simple exercise routine into your day. Brisk walking is a great way to stay agile and fit, but only if you walk at a pace that makes you feel a little breathless, but you can still carry on a conversation for at least 20-30 minutes at a stretch. Given the sticky weather, you could consider stepping into a mall to get some exercise in air-conditioned comfort. Stay away from the food court and if you must shop, buy a pair of good walking shoes. Take the stairs whenever possible to improve endurance and strengthen the leg muscles, which are among toughest muscles to build.
At home, just cleaning up and shifting furniture is a great way to utilise different sets of muscles. And when you bend forward, bend from the hips, not the waist, as bending from the waist may sprain or injure the spine.
Of course, this will also help you lose weight. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the effects of lifestyle activity (walking more, taking stairs instead of the elevator) to a structured exercise programme (20-60 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 days a week) and found that two years on, both groups showed similar improvements in cardiovascular fitness, reduced blood pressure and lower body fat.
Add to that drinking plenty of fluids and taking a day off to rest your muscles if you have been a little too enthusiastic about exercise lately and you’ll find yourself in the win-win situation of being fitter and less prone to injury.