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Take the "Ouch" Out of Your New Year's Exercise Resolutions

Washington Sports Medicine Physician Encourages Adding Injury Prevention to 2016 Goals

Keeping a New Year’s resolution to get more exercise can be a battle between the opposing forces of human psychology and physiology.

“Psychologically, people often show a lot of enthusiasm for starting a new exercise program or increasing their level of exercise in the year ahead,” says Medical Director of Washington Sports Medicine Russell Nord, MD. “Dealing with the limits of human physiology, however, is the reality. Changing your physical shape doesn’t happen overnight. When your mind’s psychological motivation outpaces your body’s physiological ability to adapt to a new exercise regimen, you can run into problems.”

A board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, Dr. Nord has seen a broad range of exercise-related injuries.

“It could be something as simple as a burning ache after lifting weights, or it could be more serious, such as a stress fracture in the foot or leg that results from overuse,” he explains. “Stress fractures are ‘overuse injuries’ caused by repeatedly putting pressure on the bones, robbing the body of its ability to respond. It’s like taking a paper clip and bending it back and forth repeatedly until it snaps.

“Stress fractures can happen even when you’re just taking up a new walking regimen,” he adds. “For example, new military recruits would often get stress fractures in their legs or feet after marching long distances, day after day, without allowing the body to adapt to those strenuous demands over time. You need to give your body time to strengthen and thicken your bones and muscles by starting out slowly and gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your exercise workouts.”

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends getting a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days per week, or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three days per week. An example of vigorous-intensity exercise would be walking at a brisk pace to the point where you cannot hold a conversation.

“That recommendation might be too much for someone who is just beginning to exercise regularly,” Dr. Nord says. “If you are starting out, you could go for a five-minute walk the first day. If you feel good the next day, increase the time to 10 minutes. Maybe the next day, you could speed up the pace for a more vigorous 10-minute walk. Then take a day of rest.”

Dr. Nord also notes that people who are starting a new exercise program should make sure they have good-quality shoes suited to the type of exercise.

“Don’t just use old shoes that you’ve been wearing for awhile,” he says. “Those shoes might not have enough padding left to cushion your feet and legs from the impact of walking or running. Make sure your shoes are properly fitted for length, width and the arch of your foot. And of course, the shoes need to feel comfortable while you are exercising.”

To prevent injuries while walking or running, Dr. Nord suggests finding a surface that is softer than pavement – such as dirt, grass or the local high school running track.

“People who can’t do weight-bearing exercises such as walking or running could consider other options,” he says. “For example, you could lift weights, starting with small hand-held weights and gradually increasing both the weight and the repetitions. If you choose swimming as your form of exercise, vary your strokes – add breaststroke, backstroke and maybe even the butterfly stroke to the standard freestyle ‘crawl’ – to build muscle strength and endurance. Swimming is easy on your joints, plus it burns lots of calories and improves your cardiovascular fitness. For people who prefer to work out at a gym, I recommend using different types of equipment, rather than just sticking to the treadmill or the bench press. You also need to make sure you include cardiovascular exercise in your gym workout.”

While it is good to have specific goals in mind for your exercise routine – such as increasing your workout duration or intensity – there are other aspects of a good exercise regimen that might seem unrelated to your goal, according to Dr. Nord.

“Your exercise routine should be holistic, including warming up before vigorous exercise, then stretching and cooling down after exercising,” he says. “Those extra steps don’t take you away from the specific goal of your workout. They actually support a longer-term achievement. An analogy would be that you have to build a foundation before framing a house.”

Sometimes the hardest part of starting and maintaining an exercise program is finding a way to consistently set aside the time for it.

“I can truly empathize with people about how difficult it can be to find the time to exercise,” says Dr. Nord. “We’re all busy with work, spending time with our kids, rushing back and forth to other obligations. I have found that some version of ‘multitasking’ can help. Try listening to a podcast or watching a TV show while working out on a stationary bike or treadmill. Push your toddler in a stroller or take the dog with you while you’re out walking or jogging. Get a friend or relative to exercise with you so you can combine exercise with a social activity.”

People who have not been exercising regularly should consult their doctors before starting any new exercise program, Dr. Nord advises. In addition, they might benefit from the services of an athletic trainer, a physical therapist or a sports club trainer.

“It is always good to have some instruction, but if a trainer tells you to do something that doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid of trying other options,” he says. “Plus, you need to be aware that some personal trainers have more experience than others. Check with your friends – or your physician – to get recommendations for trainers who might be a good fit for you.”

Attend the Free Sports Medicine Education Series: Learn More About Injury Prevention and Treatment

Washington Sports Medicine is launching a free Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Education Series to help people in the community learn more about the prevention and treatment of injuries while exercising or participating in sports.

The series should be of special interest to athletes, parents of students participating in school sports, coaches, athletic trainers and “weekend warriors.” The series of programs will be offered on the first Wednesday of every other month, beginning February 3, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium in the Washington West Building at 2500 Mowry Ave. in Fremont.

Primary care sports medicine specialist Steven Zonner, OD, and a certified physical therapist will present the first seminar on February 3, “Exercise Injuries: Prevention and Treatment.”

Other speakers for subsequent programs later in 2016 will include Medical Director of Washington Sports Medicine Dr. Russell Nord, as well as other physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists and registered dietitians. Topics for these programs will include:

  • “Prevention and Treatment of Youth Sports Injuries”
  • “Think Running Is a Pain? It Doesn’t Have To Be”
  • “Big Changes in Concussion Care: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You”
  • “Nutrition and Athletic Performance”
  • “Why Does My Shoulder Hurt: Shoulder Pain in the Youth Athlete to the Weekend Warrior and Beyond”

For more information or to register for an upcoming program, call 800.963.7070 or visit If you need help finding a physician who specializes in the prevention and treatment of exercise or sports injuries, visit and click on the link for “Find Your Physician.”