Now, we're not saying you should stay home and watch TV every time you feel a tiny twinge of pain. But there's absolutely no point in pushing your body too hard if it needs time to recover. 'Remember, the key to safe exercising is to ease your way in,' insists Cheyne Voss, lead physiotherapist at TenPhysio. 'If certain body parts are sore, don't be afraid to take a day off or, better still, change to a different kind of activity that puts the problem areas under less strain. So if your legs are aching, for example, forget the run or long walk and go for a swim instead. It sounds obvious - but you'd be surprised how many people regularly ignore what their bodies are telling them.'
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The key to injury-proofing your body? 'Strong core muscles,' says Cheyne Voss. 'These comprise the sides of your buttocks, area between your shoulder blades and lower abdominals. Strengthening these areas will help minimise or avoid many of the common exercise-, posture- and age-related conditions to which we're all prone. Before starting a strengthening programme, it's a good idea to consult a physiotherapist or personal trainer and ask them to tailor a routine based around your lifestyle.' Want a quick generic core-strengthening exercise? Try the 'Superman'. Kneel on your hands and knees, engage your lower abs, then raise and strengthen your right leg behind you while you raise your left arm in front. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Aim for five sets.
'Introducing your body into movement gradually will not only help you avoid injury, but can also increase flexibility,' says Dan Edwardes, founder of Parkour Generations). Put simply, the warmer your muscles are, the more effective your workout will be and the fitter you'll become. Even if you're really pushed for time, there are lots of ways to build your warm-up into your day: take a brisk walk to the gym or pool instead of driving there, for instance. And if you're heading out for a run or bike ride, start off slowly - no matter how eager you are to get going. Never just stand up from your chair and set off at top speed. That way, you'll be running headlong into injury.
Yes, stretching is important in the battle against pain and injury - but sometimes, less is more. 'Stretching too vigorously straight after a full-on exercise session won't stop your muscles from feeling sore the following day and can even cause injuries if you overdo it,' says Nahid de Belgeonne, founder of Good Vibes Fitness). The alternative? 'To stay flexible and injury-free, it's far better to adopt a short and simple home yoga routine that you can implement first thing in the morning and again before bedtime,' says Nahid. Never tried yoga before? Find a beginners' class locally - most gyms and leisure centres run them - and ask the teacher for some moves you can try at home.
We're back to listening to our bodies again - but there's solid reasoning behind this. 'It's ridiculous to think your mind and body are two separate entities,' insists Nahid de Belgeonne. 'Mental tension regularly manifests itself physically, so learning to relax the mind through meditation can be of huge benefit. Meditation can help to regulate anxiety, depression and insomnia - and has a profound effect on the central nervous system.' Convinced your mind can never be stilled? Rubbish! Persevere and you'll soon get the knack of it. For help and advice on getting started, go to www.getsomeheadspace.com.
Want to take up running? Good for you! But don't even think about pounding the pavements in those old trainers that have been lurking in the hall cupboard for the past 10 years. 'Get yourself down to a specialist running shop where they'll be able to analyse how you run and make sure you have adequate support or orthotics in your shoes,' says Nahid de Belgeonne. 'This is especially important if you have fallen feet or flat arches. Having badly fitting shoes or too little support can cause all manner of injuries and even contribute to tightening your hamstrings and damaging your Achilles tendons.' The same goes for other sports, too: investing in the correct footwear is key to avoiding injury.
Maybe you love your regular running route. Perhaps you look forward to doing the same Zumba class every week. Fair enough. But by doing the same moves again and again, you're putting some muscles and joints under continual strain, while others go ignored. The result? You're pretty much inviting injury - and aggravating existing ones. And as we age, the gradual wear and tear on our joints and muscles becomes more evident. So it pays to try out new ways of exercising. 'To steer clear of injury, low-impact exercise is better,' says Mr Sean Curry, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at The London Orthopaedic Clinic. 'Think swimming, cycling or even rowing instead of running.' However, it's still important to include some kind of weight-bearing exercise - such as brisk walking - into your routine, to protect against osteoporosis.
Face it: those aches and pains won't just disappear. Many of us tend to fall into the stop-start trap of exercising regularly until a regular problem - a dodgy knee or an aching shoulder - pops up again. We then wait for it to ease off - losing fitness and feeling grumpy into the meantime - before we start all over again. Stop! It's important to seek medical advice or the problem will just get worse and worse. 'If you've suffered from - or are currently recovering from - an injury, seek the advice of a physiotherapist before exercising again,' says Uzo Ehiogu, clinical specialist physiotherapist at London Bridge Hospital. 'They're experts in the treatment and prevention of injury.' Ask your GP for a referral or visit www.csp.org.uk to find a physiotherapist near you.
Of course, it's not just our muscles and joints that need a little TLC when we exercise. All that repetitive movement causes our breasts to complete an uncomfortable figure-of-eight that leads problems such as pain, sagging and permanent damage to the supporting tissues. The solution lies in buying a specialist sports bra that offers maximum comfort and support. An example? The brand new Panache Sports Bra - available in B to H cup sizes - allows independent movement in all direction while reducing breast bounce by up to 83%, compared to wearing no bra at all. Price £35; find out more at www.panachesport.com.
OK, most of us don't need much persuading to stay away from the gym - but it's also easy to get over-enthusiastic when you first start a new regime and begin to see results. 'It's crucial to factor rest and recovery into your training week,' says Uzo Ehiogu. 'Training every day - whatever you do - is a recipe for injury and burnout, even for the most experienced fitness enthusiast. Over-training can have negative effects on performance and the potential to cause injury - and these symptoms can manifest in those embarking on the most basic of fitness regimes. Inadequate recovery and excessive training - combined with a hectic lifestyle and lack of sleep - can lead to persistent tiredness, mood changes and frequent illness. But it's easily prevented with proper rests between workouts.'