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Make the Most of Summer: 8 Ways to Avoid Injuries During Outdoor Activities

After a long winter and a spring filled with COVID19 quarantine, most of us can’t wait to get outside this summer! Even if social distancing is still the norm, there’s nothing like sunshine and fresh air to boost your spirits. From biking to hikes to kayaking, the summer is jam-packed with outdoor activities–many of which you can enjoy solo, from a safe social distance.

But with all these summertime sports and exercises comes a need for safety precautions. Avoiding injury is always best during outdoor activities, but it does require a little planning and practicality.

At the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin, summertime often brings new cases of sports and exercise-related injuries. While some injuries are inevitable, many are preventable with a few precautions. So before you head out to enjoy the sunny weather, think safety first. Follow these 8 tips to avoid injuries during outdoor activities in the summer months.

1. Stretch Before Outdoor Activities

When you break out the bike, strap on the skates, or hit the tennis court for the first time each season, chances are you will wake up with new aches and pains the next morning. For many of us, a few light stretches and warm-ups would help prevent these muscle pulls and strains.

Movement and activity are vital to your health and well-being and stretching helps you prepare to move. A few light dynamic stretches like squats, lunges, or twists will get you primed for movement. Before you hit the baseball diamond, the pickleball court, or a paddle around the lake, take the time to warm-up.

2. Gear Up for Extra Safety

As with any activity, summer sports and exercise require the right gear. Those new to exercise often sustain injuries because they aren’t wearing and using the proper footwear, padding, and other safety equipment. There’s a tendency to wait to see if you enjoy an outdoor activity before you invest in gear—but this can become a costly error in the long run.

Instead, view the purchase of the right gear as an investment in your health and safety. If you plan to run, get running shoes that are supportive and right for your foot strike. If you play softball, volleyball, or another team sport, use the right protective padding and equipment. Not only will you stay safer, but chances are you’ll play better when you aren’t holding back out of fear of injury.

3. Go Slow When Starting New Summer Sports

If this is the summer that you’re finally going to test your standup paddleboard skills, kayaking prowess, or revive your dormant softball dreams, then start slow! When you take on a new outdoor activity, prevent injury by easing into the process.

It’s easy to forget that it takes time to build skills and muscles for a new activity. Newbies tend to “go hard,” and that’s when injury befalls them. Take the time to train with a coach or trainer. Listen to your instructor and never push yourself to do an activity that hurts. Learn the proper form and the best approach to set yourself up for success.

4. Take a Break from Training and Exercise

Similarly, when the sun is out and the long-awaited summer weather is finally here, it’s easy to overdo it. You may want to train harder and exercise longer to make the most of the warm weather.

Unfortunately, hot weather may also lead to dehydration and fatigue. You must listen to your body during summer activities to prevent injury. If you notice you’re starting to feel tired, dizzy, or achy, take a break. Don’t push yourself to follow a new training regimen every day. Instead, build rest days into your schedule and take a pause when you need it!

5. Hydrate Whenever You’re in Warm Weather

Hydration is the anecdote to summer fatigue. Proper hydration is vital all year round, but in the summer months, it’s especially important. In a University of Portsmith study, researchers found athletes who avoided hydration while exercising experienced more stress and fatigue. Hydration will keep your energy levels steady and immune system strong—staving off the fatigue that leads to missteps and injury.

Plan accordingly and bring a reusable water bottle on all your activities. If you go for a hike or trail run, bring along plenty of cold water—more than you think you’ll need. If you get lost, delayed, or decide to take a break, you won’t risk running out of water. The same advice goes for water sports. When you’re out on a boat or jet-ski, you may feel like you’re surrounded by water, but on the water, the effects of dehydration and the sun feel even more intense.

6. Prioritize Rest (Even if You Don’t Feel Tired)

With longer days and fun outdoor activities, proper rest may get lower on your priority list. It’s great that we often experience a burst of energy in the summer months. With no school, vacation time, and adjusted schedules, it’s not uncommon to feel a little “off routine” during this time.

Unfortunately, sleep isn’t something you can catch up on later. It’s essential to get a good night’s sleep all year long, but especially in the summer months, when you might engage in more strenuous outdoor activities. During sleep, your body heals. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours per night depending on age and other factors. Listen to your body and prioritize rest.

7. Wear Sunscreen for Extra Protection

Sunshine is excellent for our bodies and our sense of well-being. Although sun protection might not keep you from orthopedic injuries, it will keep you safe from one of the most common hazards of outdoor activities—sunburn and skin damage.

Wearing proper sun protection keeps you safe and allows you to enjoy more fun in the sun. It’s important to wear sunscreen with the right amount of skin protection (The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher). If you’re engaged in summer outdoor activities, don’t suffer through the pain of a burn. Take the extra precaution of wearing sunscreen, even if you only plan to spend a short time outdoors.

8. Take a Buddy on Your Outdoor Activities

Another vital tip to avoid injuries during outdoor activity? Use the buddy system! Minor injuries like a muscle strain or twisted ankle can quickly turn dangerous when you’re alone and unable to access help. Taking a family member with you when you go for a hike, bike ride, or jog, will ensure someone’s looking out. If you plan to go on a boat, kayak, or take a swim, the buddy system is vital.

Should you prefer solo activities, inform a friend or family member of your planned route and estimated time of return. This is important at any time of year, but especially in the summer when heat poses another threat. Carry your phone and wear identification in case of any emergency. These minor precautions are essential if you sustain an injury during your workout.

Summer is a great time for outdoor activities. Remember to take it slow, listen to your body, and take the proper precautions to stay safe when you spend time outdoors. Don’t let a sports or exercise injury keep you on the sidelines this summer.

Should you feel any discomfort or suspect an injury, it’s crucial to seek assistance right away. Don’t “play through the pain.” Contact the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin to meet with a member of our physical therapy team to help get you back on track to enjoy your summer fun!

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