Sports may help you live a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life.

While some might think sports are only for the young and healthy, the reality is that more and more people are continuing to play or picking up new sports later in life. Sports are fun to do at any age because they challenge your athletic ability and give you an opportunity to connect with others. Plus there are a number of health benefits ranging from stress relief and better sleep to lower risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer. When you add up all the health benefits, you get a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life.

So we checked in with Peter Gerbino MD again this week for his tips on getting started in a new sport or advancing in one that you already do and love. The approach whether you are 5 or 50 is similar and will help keep you injury free.

Dr. Gerbino’s tips for starting and excelling in sports at any age.

1/ Be sure you are healthy enough.

Do you know your blood pressure? How about your cholesterol level? If you don’t know your health status, at any age, see your doctor and find out. It could save your life.

2/ Do your research and prepare for the sport. 

Once you know you are healthy enough, prepare for the sport by researching the proper conditioning for that sport and ideally working with a certified strength and conditioning professional.

3/ Get professional advice on how to improve. 

Once in the sport, learn how to improve with instruction from professional athletes and coaches.

How do you find a good coach? Finding a good coach is very tough. Just because someone excelled at the sport doesn’t make for a good coach. In fact, if it had been easy to be good at a sport, that person does not know what it takes to work through difficulties. Sometimes one who had a hard time getting good at a sport makes a better coach. A good coach for one individual might be terrible for another. A coach who is very supportive might be great for a beginner, but terrible for an advanced athlete who needs to develop mental toughness. Find a coach, get to know him or her and see if things click. I know of no other way.

4/ Listen to your body.

Pain is not weakness leaving the body. Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is damaged. Don’t ignore pain. Learn what was damaged and how to heal it.

When should you see a doctor? Any time there is pain during the activity, that is a bad sign. If the pain comes on after the activity and resolves, that’s more likely to be something you can watch. Pain that lasts more than a few weeks needs to be evaluated.

When can you return to sport? It depends on the sport and the injury. You should be pain-free and go back slowly, checking in with your body constantly. Increase duration and intensity no more that 10% per week.

If pain returns, stop. Remember RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. See a sports medicine physician to find out what is wrong.

5/ When it comes to kids, the same rules apply.

Kids are less likely to complain out of fear of losing their spot on the team. If performance falls off, think injury and have them evaluated.

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