A near-perfect storm will collide on Feb. 7 with the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
That’s because the Games, which will put the world’s sleek bodies on every couch potato’s high-def TV, come but a mere month after New Year’s resolutions to get in shape.
A potential crush at rehab centers from inspired would-be athletes who will seek relief from overuse injuries, torn tendons and other weekend-warrior ailments.
“A lot of people saw me this week to take care of aches and pains because they were trying to begin a fitness program,” said Dr. Lee Kaplan, chief of sports medicine at UHealth Sports Medicine, earlier this month. Shoulder tendonitis. Knee pain. Patella tendonitis. Achilles’ tendonitis. Tennis elbow.
These are among the sports-related injuries that doctors, trainers and physical therapists report an abundance of as January slips into February.
“Basically, the same thing we see all year,” said Noel Gressner, a physical therapist at Doctors’ Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. “The high school sports season can have an influence on injuries that come in here.”
The coming Olympics only inspire more outdoor action.
Not that the medical community frowns on people exercising more.
On the contrary. In a nation in which obesity is a significant health crisis, people need to partake in some kind of physical activity daily, if possible. Get the heart rate up and the blood flowing, experts say. The emphasis should be on heeding your body’s own warning system and building up toward a routine.
“The theme is volume, load and intensity, so the body can accommodate to the stresses,” said Gressner. “Rest built into a period of training will be a key component. Get enough rest to be able to recuperate or to make sure you don’t have a micro injury, which can lead to a more significant injury.”
For elite athletes transitioning back to a “normal life,” a physical evaluation is advised after long periods of intense training.
“Athletes like that have years of training and loads and stresses on the body. Coming down off that volume and intensity, you will want to address any injuries that haven’t had time to heal,” said Gressner.
“The first thing we do when they check out is an end-of-year physical,” Kaplan said, citing his work with the Marlins and Hurricanes, as well as several Brazilian athletes who trained for the Summer Games at UM.
Find a balance, Gressner suggests. Set new fitness goals in accordance with the next stage of your life.
Sarah Messiah, an alternate on the U.S. kayak team at the Barcelona Games in 1992, said her fitness routines didn’t end when her career as a research associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine began.
“Being an athlete is a huge part of my identity,” Messiah said. “Being a mom to aspiring kids that are athletes, that role modeling is important. It’s one thing to tell kids to be active. It’s a whole other thing to walk that walk.”
As such, Messiah, 46, regularly engages in Bikram yoga (a form of yoga performed in heated rooms), along with swimming, running, water aerobics, CrossFit cardio and weight-lifting exercises. She said she would love to participate in a Master’s program in track and field.
“I get asked this a lot from girlfriends and parents coming in with their kids. The first thing I say is the reason I am still fit at my age and this stage of my life is I prioritize it. It has to be a priority in your life,” said Messiah, a single mom raising three children, ages 16, 13 and 8.
“People say, ‘I don’t have the time or energy.’ I try to get them to understand that exercising will give you the energy. The time you invest in the physical activity will pay you back in dividends more because of how much better you’ll feel in those hours you’re not exercising and awake and doing your other tasks,” she said.
But what to do?
Use your imagination. Swim champion Michael Phelps tried golf after his third Olympics reign in London in 2012, for example.
For some, the camaraderie found as a member of a sports team can be hard to shake after retirement, so joining a class or friends for a workout could be the way to go, suggests Lauryn Williams, a three-time track and field Olympian who retired from that sport after the London Summer Games. Last week, she qualified for a spot on the U.S. women’s bobsled team competing in Sochi.
“Working out as part of a team/group is helpful, whether you are just trying to be healthy or training for an Olympic Games,” Williams, 30, said in an email from Austria earlier this month while training on the bobsled.
“Be consistent, do something every day,” Messiah advised. “Sitting has been shown to be one of the worst possible things you can do for your health, for your blood pressure. Even if it’s just walking, getting up, taking breaks during the day. If you’re someone who doesn’t like a long session, break it up. Be creative how you integrate exercise into a day.”
And listen to your body talk.
“It’s really important to key into yourself and how you’re feeling,” Messiah said. “The most important thing I can do for myself is realize that you are not in your 20s anymore and not trying to make the next Olympic team in Rio. Just go in and maintain for today and make sure not to get injured. You don’t want to fall off the wheel and be out.”