Tag Archives: safety

Preseason sports safety

It’s hard to believe, but preseason practice for high school sports will be starting soon. This is an exciting time of year for athletes, coaches, and fans alike. Unfortunately, even the fittest young athletes can suffer injuries (or worse) during preseason training and competition during the season. Among the biggest concerns are the rigorous training schedule, exercise in the heat, and head injury. Fortunately, there are steps that coaches and parents can take to ensure the safety of young athletes during practice and games. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Preseason practices typically emphasize conditioning—getting athletes in shape for the season. While coaches may expect players to arrive at practice already in shape, the reality is that many athletes still need to improve their strength, endurance, and flexibility. Preseason conditioning usually consists of vigorous exercise designed to improve fitness rapidly. Many coaches also use this time to “toughen up” the players or to weed out those who are not suited for the sport. For most young athletes this approach is safe and effective, but there is a risk of injury or, more rarely, collapse or death with intense training.

The risk of injury or death is made worse by the high heat and humidity that is common at this time of the year. For this reason, many coaches hold conditioning sessions in the morning or evening, when it is cooler. Even then, exercise alone poses a challenge to maintain a normal body temperature. Adding equipment such as pads and helmets for football players increases the risk for hyperthermia, which is even greater in the sun on a hot day. A high sweat rate makes dehydration more likely, so frequent water breaks are essential. Unfortunately, some coaches may be tempted to limit water breaks in a misguided effort to build toughness. This is absolutely inappropriate! Dehydration and hyperthermia can lead to heat stroke, which can be deadly.

This topic was covered in an NPR  interview with Dr. Douglas Casa of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. You can also watch a video in which Dr. Casa discusses hydration and preventing heat illness in young athletes.

Another concern, especially among football players, is the risk of concussion. It turns out that concussions are more common than previously thought in football players and repeat concussions, even “minor” ones, can cause long-term problems. New recommendations for all levels of football call for a better assessment of athletes who suffer head injuries and prevent injured athletes from returning to play. This is important during practices as well as games. While the focus is on football, nearly all sports that involve contact have a risk of concussion.

The topic of concussion is addressed in this video of a lecture given by Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC-Chapel Hill and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award winner.

These risks can be reduced by good year-round conditioning, altering practices to reduce heat injury risk, education to reduce the likelihood of concussion, and careful assessment when a concussion is suspected. These responsibilities fall on the coaching staff and the certified athletic trainers who should be present at all practices and competitions. Certified athletic trainers have the knowledge and skills to assess environmental conditions and monitor athletes for signs of heat stroke, concussion, and other injuries. You can learn more about sports injury prevention and the role of certified athletic trainers in keeping young athletes safe from the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). All athletic trainers working in our area are certified by the NATA.

All players should also undergo a physical exam prior to participation in sports. The risk of injury can be further reduced by making sure all players are in shape prior to the start of practice. Coaches should find incentives to motivate their players to build strength and endurance in the off-season. Parents should make sure their young athletes are prepared for the physical requirements of their sport and aware of the risks of participation.

While injury is always possible, the risks can be minimized through careful planning and communication among coaches, parents, athletic trainers, and the athletes themselves.


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Keep your cool while you work and play outdoors this summer.

No doubt about it, summer is here. The kids are out of school, sports camps are underway, the playground is calling, and the lawn needs to be mowed. And it’s hot! But the high temperature and humidity doesn’t have to keep you from taking part in your favorite outdoor activities. By taking a few precautions, outdoor activities in the summer heat can be safe and enjoyable for your entire family.

summer splash fun


Drink plenty of fluids

When it’s hot you have to sweat to lose heat and maintain your body temperature. High humidity makes sweating less effective, so you sweat even more. Losing lots of water through sweating can lead to dehydration. At the very least, you probably will feel fatigued but in more severe cases dizziness, low blood pressure, and fainting can occur.

For this reason it is important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your outdoor activity. As a general rule, a cup (8 oz.) of water every 15 minutes is sufficient for most people. Thirst is a good indicator of fluid needs, but you should take frequent breaks to rehydrate.

Make sure to remind kids to take breaks since they can get so busy playing that they forget. Water, juice, sports drinks, and other soft drinks are equally effective, so pick something you and your kids will drink.

Take breaks

The longer you are active the hotter you will get and you may feel more fatigued because of the heat. Taking frequent breaks will give you a chance to rest, cool down, and get something to drink.

Seek out shade

Being in the sun means that you will feel even hotter because you gain heat from the sun’s rays. Spending as much time as you can in the shade will help you stay cool. While this isn’t always practical for all activities, look for shady spots to take breaks.

Keep in mind that shady areas at will change throughout the day, so plan your trip to the park accordingly. Also be aware that direct sunlight can make outdoor surfaces like playground equipment very hot. This is another reason to find shady areas to play.

Pick cool clothes

Lighter colored clothing will reduce heat gain from the sun. Synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the skin can help keep you feel cooler, too. And having more skin exposed will allow you to lose more heat.

Wear sunscreen

Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. Always use a broad-spectrum (both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen and apply—and reapply—it according to the instructions. You should also protect your eyes by wearing a hat or sunglasses.

Avoid the hottest times of the day

Try to plan your outdoor activity in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest times of the day. Keep in mind that the highest temperatures often occur in the late afternoon or early evening, so right after work may not be the best time for outdoor activities. Early in the morning is probably the best time since it tends to be cooler and less humid.

You may not be able to plan your activities in the shade or when it is cooler. This is especially true for people who work outdoors. In these cases, drinking plenty of fluids and taking frequent breaks is particularly important.

These tips should help you and your family safely enjoy spending time outdoors this summer. And never underestimate the cooling power of a popsicle on a hot summer day!


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Keep your cool this summer.

It’s that time of year again… time for my annual Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard about being active safely in the summer heat.


No doubt about it, summer is here. The kids are out of school, sports camps are underway, the playground is calling, and the lawn needs to be mowed. And it’s hot! But the high temperature and humidity doesn’t have to keep you from taking part in your favorite outdoor activities. By taking a few precautions, outdoor activities in the summer heat can be safe and enjoyable for your entire family.

1. Drink plenty of fluids

When it’s hot you have to sweat to lose heat and maintain your body temperature. High humidity makes sweating less effective, so you sweat even more. Losing lots of water through sweating can lead to dehydration. At the very least, you probably will feel fatigued but in more severe cases dizziness, low blood pressure, and fainting can occur.

For this reason it is important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your outdoor activity. As a general rule, a cup (8 oz.) of water every 15 minutes is sufficient for most people. Thirst is a good indicator of fluid needs, but you should take frequent breaks to rehydrate.

Make sure to remind kids to take breaks since they can get so busy playing that they forget. Water, juice, sports drinks, and other soft drinks are equally effective, so pick something you and your kids will drink.

2. Take breaks

The longer you are active the hotter you will get and you may feel more fatigued because of the heat. Taking frequent breaks will give you a chance to rest, cool down, and get something to drink.

3. Seek out shade

Being in the sun means that you will feel even hotter because you gain heat from the sun’s rays. Spending as much time as you can in the shade will help you stay cool. While this isn’t always practical for all activities, look for shady spots to take breaks.

Keep in mind that shady areas at will change throughout the day, so plan your trip to the park accordingly. Also be aware that direct sunlight can make outdoor surfaces like playground equipment very hot. This is another reason to find shady areas to play.

4. Pick cool clothes

Lighter colored clothing will reduce heat gain from the sun. Synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the skin can help keep you feel cooler, too. And having more skin exposed will allow you to lose more heat.

5. Wear sunscreen

Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. Always use a broad-spectrum (both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen and apply—and reapply—it according to the instructions. You should also protect your eyes by wearing a hat or sunglasses.

6. Avoid the hottest times of the day

Try to plan your outdoor activity in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest times of the day. Keep in mind that the highest temperatures often occur in the late afternoon or early evening, so right after work may not be the best time for outdoor activities. Early in the morning is probably the best time since it tends to be cooler and less humid.

You may not be able to plan your activities in the shade or when it is cooler. This is especially true for people who work outdoors. In these cases, drinking plenty of fluids and taking frequent breaks is particularly important.

These tips should help you and your family safely enjoy spending time outdoors this summer. And never underestimate the cooling power of a popsicle on a hot summer day!

Is exercise safe? Yes!

Recently someone asked me why I recommend that people exercise considering that exercise is  dangerous and can lead to injury or death (they didn’t say it exactly that way, though). I responded that while it is true that exercise could be dangerous, it almost always isn’t and serious complications exceptionally rare. Furthermore, regular exercise actually reduces the risk of heart attack or sudden death and screening prior to starting an exercise program can reduce this risk further.

Then, someone asked me about the “CrossFit syndrome” they saw on the news. At first I had no idea what they were talking about, but in our conversation I figured out that it referred to exertional rhabdomyolysis. This form of severe muscle damage can, rarely, result from extreme exercise and, apparently, this has happened  in people doing CrossFit.

But it could result from any overexertion, not just CrossFit and not just exercise. The risk of injury like this can be reduced by starting at a low intensity, progressing gradually, and taking advice from qualified, certified trainers and coaches. Some common sense helps, too: Exercise may cause some muscle soreness, but it shouldn’t hurt.

So, I figured I should write about exercise safety, which I did in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.