It's a nice day and you can't wait to hit the links for 36 holes, play a game of pickup basketball or go running. Exercise has endless benefits, but if you spent the better part of the winter planted on the couch, the kamikaze approach can put you on the fast track to sports-related injuries: sprains and strains, knee and Achilles tendon injuries, swollen muscles, shin splints, fractures and dislocations. To avoid being sidelined:
Schedule a physical.
Get your health checked before you start a new sport or fitness routine, especially if you've had a previous injury, haven't exercised in three months or have a medical condition now.
Build up slowly.
A good rule, especially for Baby Boomers: Increase your activity level by no more than 10% a week. That means if you start with 15-minute walks on Week 1, don't head out for an hour the following week; instead, add a few minutes at a time until you reach your goal. Mix up your routine with a variety of low-impact activities (walking, swimming, biking) to work out different body parts.
Tennis, volleyball, golf, even hiking and running - they all require repetitive movements that can strain or tear muscles and tendons. If you plan on playing a sport, make sure you strengthen the relevant muscle groups beforehand. For example, elbow problems lead the list of injuries for golfers, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; building up the forearms - by squeezing a tennis ball or doing wrist curls - can help avoid that. Also, consider taking lessons, even if you've played before. Proper technique is crucial to preventing overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and tendonitis.
Start and end with 10.
That's 10 minutes to warm up (which increases blood flow to muscles) and 10 to cool down (to gradually reduce the temp of muscles). There is some controversy about whether those 20 minutes offer any health benefits, but experts say they pose little risk, so if you have the time, consider adding them to your workout schedule.
• The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels and psychologist Wendy Walsh. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.