1. Ease into it

It’s good to be fired up about working out, but don’t let that motivation push you too far, too fast. Often people jump right into workouts that are not meant for beginners, and they haven’t developed the musculature, particularly core strength,” to do it with proper form. This is especially risky with strength training, where getting sloppy with proper form to squeeze out a certain number of reps can result in injuries such as rotator cuff tears and lower back strain. Only use the amount of resistance or weight and number of reps that you can do with perfect form. The last two to three reps should be challenging, but not so challenging you have to break form.

  1. Stop skipping your warm-up

While stretching (the kind you do standing mostly still flexing a calf or hamstring) can be done at any time during or after your workout, there is no evidence that it helps prevent injuries. What you should do instead? A warm-up.

As opposed to stretching, a warm-up involved movements similar to your workout but done more slowly. The purpose of a warm-up is to increase blood flow to the muscles, improve tissue elasticity and stimulate the nervous system. Think of it as slowly accelerating into your workout. A warm-up is important for avoiding injury, especially as we age and our soft tissue becomes less elastic.

That doesn’t mean you can skip stretching altogether. Just save it for after your warm-up (when tissues are warm) or the end of your session. Stretching can reduce the buildup of lactic acid in muscle tissue, which contributes to lingering soreness and aches. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching each muscle group for at least 60 seconds.

  1. Invest in the right shoes

There is no shoe that can prevent injuries, but there are definitely plenty that can cause them in the wrong person. Shoes that are too narrow up front (the area called the toe box) can hold your feet in positions that may predispose you to a

bunion. As you age, the risk of soft tissue injuries that affect areas like the calf and achilles tendon also increases. In general look for a shoe that was designed for whatever activity you’re planning to do most. Basketball shoes, for example, are designed with side-to-side movements in mind, while running shoes typically are not. Buy from a specialty store where employees have been trained to help guide you (REI is one of the few big box retailers that does this) Because your feet swell as the day goes on, shoe shop in the afternoon or evening for the best fit; you should have half to a full thumb’s width between end of toe and end of shoe.

Good shoes should feel comfortable the second you put them on, and no matter how silly it feels, you want to take them for a test walk or run in the store. If something feels off there, it’s probably going to feel worse after a couple miles of doing that.

Most people don’t replace their shoes often enough, but the interior components break down after about 100 miles (between four to six months, depending on use), putting you more at risk of developing shin splints. Research has also shown that rotating multiple pairs of shoes lowers your risk of injury.

4. Vary your fitness activities

Even if your regular fitness routine is primarily cardio-based, like cycling or walking, you shouldn’t skip resistance training. Strength training is the number one thing anyone over 40 years old should be doing. Strengthening muscles, particularly in your core and lower body, will actually help protect your joints. Muscles provide active shoke absorption. Strong muscles will absorb impact and recover repeatedly. If you don’t have enough strength, your joints will take the pounding and not recover as well. Aim for two to three sessions of strength training a week.

5. When in doubt, ask an expert

Gym closures during the pandemic led many people to get creative with their home workouts. But while improvising can be a good thing, basement gyms can also produce injuries caused by poor form.

In general, fitness experts say it can be easier to strength train safely at a gum, where things like cable and pulley machines leave less room for technique slip-ups than, say lifting soup cans while watching TV. When you use a machine, you’re moving in a fixed range of motion and it’s a lot harder to do it wrong. Your body is also fixed in a position, even looking in a mirror (people tend to overcompensate when watching themselves work out).

Form is the position of your spine and joints moving during exercise. It’s important to have proper alignment of those joints to ensure you’re not inadvertently putting stress on joints and tendons, which can lead to tendonitis or arthritis or other problems.

If you don’t want to head to the gym, choose at-home activities you can accommodate with what you have on hand or with a few key purchases. Following a video with a personal trainer or paying for a private session or two with a pro who can demonstrate proper form for at-home exercise can also be a great investment in your health and future.

by Jill Waldbieser, AARP, July 16, 2021