Warning! Exercise-safety fears can be hazardous to your health. You may be stuck on the sidelines due to worries that exertion will cause heart, breathing or other problems; or you are concerned about the dangers lurking outdoors when biking or walking. And now a lot of folks are worrying about treadmill falls, ever since SurveyMonkey chief executive Dave Goldberg’s tragic death due to a treadmill fall in May. But whatever your concerns, you’re missing out on a lot of fun and good health benefits.
Fortunately, exercise-related injuries are rare. Turns out treadmill mishaps sent 24,400 people to American emergency rooms in 2014 – about half of 1 percent of the nearly 500,000 people who walk and run on treadmills in the U.S., according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And every year New York City has around 4,000 reported bicyclist injuries – while around 200,000 people a day ride bikes in the city. Regardless of these low numbers, you don’t want to be part of those injury statistics.
Let’s look at some common exercise fears and how to overcome them so that you can enjoy all the health and happiness benefits of daily physical activity.
Fear No. 1: “I’ll have a treadmill accident.” Unlike bikes, elliptical trainers and rowing machines, a treadmill can keep on moving when you stop, causing trips, tumbles, cuts and abrasions. To maximize treadmill safety: Clip the auto-stop cord to your clothes; it will automatically shut the machine off if you fall. Always speed up and slow down gradually so you keep your balance. Look straight ahead; gazing down or to the side could be dizzying. If there’s a code for starting up the treadmill, use it. This will help keep kids safe.
Fear No. 2: “Exercise will make my health worse.” If you’ve got a condition like diabetes, asthma or heart disease, you might worry that overdoing it will mess with your blood sugar, breathing or heart function. In one University of Colorado survey of 1,848 people, those with diabetes were 47 percent more likely to skip exercise due to injury fears. And in a new Canadian study, stroke survivors were leery about exercising at a rehab center due to heart fears.
Actually, the right exercise routine can improve almost any health condition by reducing stress, controlling weight, keeping muscles and joints strong and flexible and improving key health indicators like blood pressure, blood sugar and LDL cholesterol. Talk with your doctor about what’s safe for you.
Fear No. 3: “It’s too dangerous out there alone.” In a 2015 review of research on women and exercise, personal safety emerged as a major obstacle to walking. Older people worried about falling, especially on a solo walk or when exercising alone at home or at the gym. These are legitimate concerns. Try setting up walking dates with a buddy – it’s the No. 1 way to keep you exercising regularly – in an area where you feel safe. Ask your doc about ways to improve your balance. If your goal is to stroll outdoors, look for options with flat, even surfaces like a running track (no one will mind if you walk it!) or a well-maintained, paved or gravel trail. And take a course on learning how to fall (see our book “YOU: Staying Young”). Learning how to roll when you sense you are falling is key to preventing breaks and injury.
Fear No. 4: “Bad things just happen.” We’ve all read sad stories about the apparently super-healthy marathon runner who dies during a race or the person whose heart suddenly stops during a pick-up basketball game. Don’t let that stop you. One new study determined that sudden cardiac arrest among midlife exercisers is relatively rare – around 5 percent of all cases of sudden cardiac arrest – and that many times people experienced warning signs like pain or unusual fatigue in the preceding week. The take-home for safe exercise: Pay attention to your body. Know your limits. Keep moving.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen, a Buffalo native, is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.