‘Many not exercising safely’

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A SURVEY published by Arthritis Research UK and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has revealed that many people in Northern Ireland may be increasing their risk of injury and joint problems like osteoarthritis in later life by not doing enough regular exercise and not exercising safely.

Only one in nine active people from Northern Ireland said that they ‘always’ warm up and cool down when doing exercise. Some 31 per cent from the same area said they ‘never do’.

The main reasons given by those who don’t warm up were ‘can’t be bothered’ (31%) and ‘I don’t know how (21%). 83 per cent of people from Northern Ireland who never warm up have not been shown how to do it. One in ten people who warm up ‘rehearse’ the movements associated with the activity.

Just 3 per cent of adults surveyed in Northern Ireland are doing the recommended amount of exercise weekly. Exercising every day is vital to keep joints supple and muscles healthy, yet only 4 per cent of active people in the country said that ‘joint health’ was their top reason for exercising.

Arthritis Research UK and CSP want to encourage people inspired by the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics to take regular exercise themselves and always warm up and cool down - to help avoid injury and keep joints healthy.

Greg Whyte, professor of sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University and a former Olympic pentathlete, said: “Physical activity is the ‘magic bullet’ for health as it targets physical and mental health and, combined with its social benefits, it has the power to truly enhance well-being. So I’d like to urge everyone to do exercise on a daily basis, but ensure they do it safely to protect their joints and prevent long-term damage.”

Professor Whyte - also known for guiding celebrities through various physical challenges in aid of Sport and Comic Relief including David Walliams’ swims and John Bishop’s extreme triathlon - continued: “Warming up and cooling down are both critical to prevent longer term damage, and that applies just as much to anyone doing sport and exercise as it does to celebrities putting themselves through ultra-endurance challenges.”

Arthritis Research UK medical director Professor Alan Silman added: “Our survey found that most people exercise to improve their heart health, but it’s also vital for strengthening muscles and keeping your joints healthy and supple. Cartilage and bones in your joints need the stimulus of regular exercise and there are simple ways to avoid injury and exercise safely.”

Pauline Taggart, a chartered physiotherapist and CSP spokesperson in Northern Ireland, explains: “These survey findings are of great concern. Far too few of us are doing enough daily exercise - and many people who are physically active are not exercising safely. Failing to warm up first and cool down afterwards may increase the chances of suffering an injury, which could potentially lead to problems like osteoarthritis in later life.

“Doing some exercise every day helps keep joints supple and muscles healthy. Simple warm-up exercises increase the blood flow to the muscles and make them more mobile. Cooling down after exercise is also important as it can help to prevent next day stiffness. Pain, during or after exercise, is a signal that your body may be having problems, and it shouldn’t be ignored.”

The survey shows that – less than two weeks before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games – only 3 per cent of people in Northern Ireland are following Government health guidelines on exercise (150 minutes of exercise a week for adults 1), so Arthritis Research UK and Chartered Physiotherapists across the UK are urging people to take inspiration from the Olympic and Paralympic Games as a vital first step towards improving their health.

There is some evidence that - for some people - acute sports injuries can be a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis in later life but more research is needed. Arthritis Research UK is funding the first major UK programme of work investigating the long term implications of sports injuries and the potential development of osteoarthritis. The £3m Centre will launch later this year and will investigate the risks associated with specific sports, whether certain individuals are more at risk and what is the best approach to treatment.

Jumping straight into strenuous exercise may increase the chances of incurring injuries. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has produced a free fact sheet on warming up and cooling down, including warm up tips for different sports, available to download at www.csp.org.uk/leaflets.