You must walk before you can run: Throughout our lives, this age-old mantra reminds us of the importance of attaining basic knowledge and skills before attempting something more challenging. Now, with spring upon us, maybe it’s time we take this metaphor a bit more literally.

The sunshine has an undeniable effect on our desire to be outside. For many, this means  a morning walk in the park, and for others it’s a regular game of tennis or the extra motivation to train for that end-of-summer triathlon.  Regardless of the degree of exercise, take it slowly! Overdoing it now can lead to injury later, and being stuck inside with an injury is the last way to lead off spring and summer.

There are many ways to ease into your preferred sports this spring. First, always make sure to set aside time to stretch before heading outside. Not just your legs, but your arms, your back, and your neck—everything. Like it or not, our bodies stiffen as we age, our flexibility wanes, our muscles tighten. Stretching appropriately not only loosens our limbs but generates blood flow as well, consequently improving our circulation. And increased circulation means the added bonus of more energy for that fun outdoor activity!

With some practice, you may even start to find stretching relaxing—both a way to improve flexibility and a calming way to start your day. Even five minutes of stretching a day is enough to feel improvement.  Take a look at this video for ideas on how to begin a new stretching routine each morning.

 

No matter what sport you choose, you need to stretch all parts of your body. For example, you use your legs just as much as your arms when playing tennis. Here’s a great video, by the Stretching Institute, that can guide you through a set of stretches most appropriate for tennis.

Drink up! It’s probably best to save that glass of wine for after your workout . . . but drinking enough fluids throughout the day is essential to maintaining a healthy and fit existence. Water is the most effective option for staying hydrated. The added sugars in juices, sports drinks, and soda are not necessarily our friends, even though they do taste good.

The more energy you plan to expend through exercise, the more water you are going to need to drink to maintain your hydration. As the temperatures rise, staying hydrated becomes ever more important, since it allows our bodies to cool ourselves through sweat. A dehydrated “athlete” (yes, that includes you women who like your morning walk!) becomes lackluster, dizzy, and weak;  this significantly increases the likelihood of injury. And remember that hydration needs to occur before as well as during exercise. By the time you feel thirsty—or, worse, dizzy—it is most often too late. A simple glass of water with your breakfast and coffee is a great way to kick off the day on the right foot; it might even get you musing about the fun outdoor fitness session to come, adding motivation to that inner athlete you didn’t even realize existed.

Once you’re out on that tennis court, be sure to take breaks often, and always drink water during the breaks. And if you’re playing nine holes with your friends, make sure to pack plenty of water in the cart. Most courses have water on every few holes, so you will have plenty of opportunity to refill as needed. It’s always a good idea to pack small snacks in your bag as well. Something as simple as a banana, trail mix, or a granola bar can go a long way towards to keeping your energy up and your muscles happy. A body filled with energy is less likely to get injured and more likely to enjoy your weekly game.

Lastly, take things slowly.  Just because you ended last summer playing tennis on Monday, golf on Wednesday, and jogging all weekend doesn’t mean you should start there. Ease into your ultimate, desired activity level gradually. Let your body be your guide. Even the greatest athletes in the world have to work relentlessly to build up to the regimen they deem acceptable. We all have different goals for ourselves athletically; getting there methodically will be rewarding, for you’ll be avoiding injury while you’re having fun.

Now that it’s sunny, I’m heading outside. After I finish this water.