How to manage physical issues associated with returning to exercise?

Published Jun 3, 2023 • By Claudia Lima

Exercise and sport are essential for good physical and mental health. When you decide to take up sport again, or start it for the first time, a number of physiological obstacles can arise. These are likely to discourage you from continuing your physical activity.

What are the health benefits of regular exercise? What physical issues can our body go through when we get back to sport after a long break? How can you manage them? 

Read our article to find out!

How to manage physical issues associated with returning to exercise?

What are the benefits of exercise? 

The WHO defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. 

It has been proven that regular physical activity facilitates prevention and management of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and several cancers. It also helps to maintain a healthy body weight and improve mental health, quality of life and general well-being.

Practicing sport helps you to build muscle, breathe properly, keep your heart in good shape, strengthen your bones, stimulate your brain, improve your morale, boost your immunity and live longer and better.

What issues can our body suffer from when we return to physical activity? 

Resuming physical activity after a long break can be accompanied by certain physical disturbances. After a long period of inactivity, it's normal for the body to go through a variety of changes. 

Possible disturbances when returning to physical activity may include:  

Aches and pains

The most common physical problem is muscle fatigue. When muscles have not been used for a long time, they can become painful. So it's possible to feel a certain weakness a few minutes, several hours or even several days after exertion.

This pain may be related to muscle soreness, or it may be joint-related. Muscle soreness means that the muscles have been subjected to intensive effort, resulting in micro-tears. Joint pain is linked to overstraining during intense physical activity, the most likely causes being excess weight and the impact of movements. Such pains can be accompanied by stiffness and inflammation of the joints.

Cardiovascular problems

Symptoms to watch out for include abnormal breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations or sudden weakness

Except in very rare cases, physical activity is not dangerous for people with cardiovascular problems. In fact, it is recommended that they do low to moderate intensity exercise.

Digestive problems

The cause of these disorders can be mechanical. When running, for example, bumps and jolts can affect the function of the digestive organs. When shaken, these organs can potentially cause: 

  • Abdominal pain, 
  • Gastric cramps,
  • Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), 
  • Nausea and vomiting, 
  • Accelerated transit with bloating and/or diarrhea.

In addition, abnormal pressure on the abdominal area leads to more intense massage of the abdomen and its organs, which in turn leads to digestive symptoms. 

Inadequate or inappropriate hydration is also one of the causes of digestive problems. What's more, lack of water can also lead to muscle pain, cramps and an increase in body temperature.

Finally, during exercise, blood flow is distributed primarily to the heart and muscles. The intestines receive less blood, less oxygen and function less well. This is called intestinal ischemia-reperfusion.

Weight gain 

When you first resume exercise after a long break, a moderate weight gain (1 to 3 kg) is a natural phenomenon that can be explained by the development of the muscles, which are heavier tissues than fat. An increase in muscle mass does not mean that there is no loss of fat mass.

Sport also increases the feeling of hunger. When you increase your energy expenditure, the brain sends signals demanding more food.

It is also possible for your metabolism to slow down following a physical effort. It all depends on your type of metabolism, but in some people, sport lowers the basal metabolic rate, the body adopts an energy-saving reflex and there is less fat loss.

However, weight alone is arbitrary and does not reflect body composition. As a reminder, the body is made up of water (60%), the skeleton (7-15%), then muscles and fat. The proportions vary widely depending on age, sex and how sedentary your lifestyle is.

How can you manage these issues better? 

Returning to sport can cause a number of physical problems. 

Here are a few precautions you can take to anticipate or mitigate them: 

  • See a healthcare professional before taking up sport,
  • Start your return to sport with low intensity exercise, then gradually increase the intensity - you need to follow your body's rhythm, 
  • Warm up thoroughly, to reduce the risk of injury, 
  • Strengthen your muscles: this will help protect joints that have lost their mobility because they were not properly exercised during the sedentary period,
  • Cardio training: endurance training develops cardiorespiratory capacity,
  • Stretching: improving flexibility helps to maintain good joint mobility and thus prevent pain, falls, etc,
  • Listen to your body, monitor the intensity of aches and pains and stop at the first disabling pain, 
  • Drink plenty of fluids, regularly and in small sips, to maintain water and nutrients balance in the body, as well as a hydroelectric balance,
  • Eat well: adapt your diet to your physical activity, take time to digest the meal preceding your activity, avoid foods that are too fatty, fermented or spicy, and limit legumes unless they are well digested,
  • Rest: it's important to strike a balance between effort and recovery to improve efficiency and avoid overexercising. Quality sleep is essential if you want to avoid exhaustion,
  • Use massage to relieve post-exertion pain. 

People with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease should monitor their blood pressure and heart rate before and after each session. People with diabetes run the risk of blood sugar levels becoming unbalanced during physical exertion. It is advisable to check blood sugar levels before and after exercise, so that treatment can be adjusted quickly, and to eat a snack if necessary.

The benefits of physical activity are numerous. Resuming physical activity after a long break must be done with patience and determination. The few physical disturbances are normal and will gradually disappear. It is very important to stay motivated and not to give up!

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