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Avoid Injury After a Break from Physical Activity

  • Published
  • 22 July 2020
  • Category
  • General

As segments of the country reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are returning to physically demanding jobs, gyms and group sports activities after taking a break from their usual work and fitness routines.

There are ways for them to ease back into physical activity and reduce injury risk.

Normally active men and women who have been sheltering in place are likely to notice signs of physical deconditioning, such as declines in their cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and tone.  Physical inactivity also lowers mood and energy levels because rigorous exercise induces positive chemical reactions at the cellular level.

When not exercising, the average adult loses 1-3 percent of muscle strength per day, with noticeable strength loss occurring within three weeks. A break from aerobic exercise is apparent with an increase in resting heart rate – four to 12 beats per minute higher a month. Meanwhile, after a month of cardio inactivity, maximal oxygen (VO2) gains achieved in the past two months are lost. (Vo2 is used to measure the amount of oxygen a person uses during intense exercise and assess energy production levels at the cellular level.)

Slower metabolism and burning fewer calories may also lead to unhealthy weight gain. Did you know that for every extra pound gained, four pounds of pressure are exerted on the knees?

Injury Prevention

Bryan Reich, a certified athletic trainer and director of WorkCare’s Industrial Athlete Program, recommends the following to reduce employees’ injury risk after a hiatus:

  1. Allow time for reconditioning. Don’t expect endurance levels to be the same as they were at the beginning of the pandemic when workplace and workout routines were disrupted. Allow employees to start slowly and build back up.
  2. Remind employees to warm up and gently stretch before doing any physical activity, and cool down and stretch afterward.
  3. Evaluate levels of exertion required for certain activities and job functions. As feasible, adjust expectations until conditioning is restored.
  4. If job rotation is an option, use it to switch off between strenuous and less strenuous tasks. This principle also applies to fitness activities such as weight training and contact sports.
  5. Eat a nutritious diet, stay well-hydrated (drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day) and get quality sleep to boost your immune system and stay healthy.
  6. Advise employees to get professional advice if they want to start a new exercise program, reduce their caloric intake and lose some weight, or feel anxious or depressed.

Remember, while there may be a temporary decline in performance compared to previous fitness levels, there is risk of injury caused by expecting someone to do too much too soon.

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