Ease Into Exercise After Long Winter's Nap

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Barnes-Jewish Expert Has Tips On Avoiding Muscle Strain

Now that spring has sprung, people are coming out from winter hibernation to clean the yard, head to the golf course or play outside with the kids. In the process, muscles that haven't been used in months begin to flare up with serious pain. Jeremy Koerber is an exercise physiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He says people tend to overdo it this time of year because they're so excited to be outside again.

"All of a sudden when that first nice day hits whether it be in January or February and they tend to want to get out, do yard work, play golf, and what ends up happening is they do too much too soon and they usually pay the price by being sore for two or three days," says Koerber. "In the worst case scenario they actually injure themselves whether it be a strain or small tear."

People usually don't feel muscle strains right away. While people can suffer serious muscle tears, Koerber says it's most likely you'll just feel soreness when you wake up the next morning.

"The most common problem is delayed onset muscle soreness because from the conditioning level, they're not quite ready to be doing a lot of yard work like hauling bags of leaves back and forth and they overdo it," says Koerber. "They over stimulate the muscle and what happens is they end up with just an inflammation. They're going to be sore for two or three days."

Koerber says if you haven't been exercising you can't expect to avoid straining muscles when you return to an active lifestyle.

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"Well wherever you are condition-wise at this point you didn't get there overnight so you can't expect to jump right out on the first day and clean the entire yard or play 18 holes of golf," says Koerber.

He says first, you want to warm up and it doesn't make a difference if you exercise or not, some simple stretches can help get you ready for the activity in general. Secondly, take it slow. Even if the only agenda item is spreading fertilizer on the lawn, it might be best to take things slow. Since months of inactivity can't be undone overnight, Koerber says you need to build up your endurance.

"If it's a situation where you want to start playing a little golf, it might be beneficial to go to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls just to get the muscles loose and conditioned," says Koerber. "If it's yard work, pick a section of the yard you're going to work on and slowly but surely work your way into the condition where you can do whatever it is that you wish."

Experts say you can add exercise to your life by simply taking the stairs between floors of buildings, walking an extra 10 minutes a day and parking further away in the parking lot instead of taking a closer spot. Koerber says following that advice can keep you from feeling sore next spring.

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April 14, 2005, ST. LOUIS - http://www.barnesjewish.org/

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