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As one year comes to a close and the new year is just around the corner, many people set a New Year’s resolution to increase their physical fitness.

These resolutions are popular because exercising regularly has so many known benefits that support healthy aging. It can increase your strength and endurance, prevent disease, improve your mental health and reduce your risk of falling or developing dementia.

Unfortunately, as a physiotherapist, I have also seen how exercise can cause injury. I have noticed a predictable “resolution rush” in February when clients come in frustrated by an injury that occurred since implementing their New Year’s fitness resolution. Some of these injuries are unavoidable, but a lot of them are simply a product of insufficient preparation, progression or self-monitoring.

Here are five tips to help you stay injury-free as you tackle your fitness resolutions.

1. Get help making a plan.

If you are challenging yourself to try something new, be sure to consult a professional first. If you have any health considerations, set up an appointment with a physiotherapist to do a movement screen, talk about your goals and get guidance choosing appropriate exercises.

2. Start at 50 per cent.

Many of us like to jump right into a new routine and enjoy feeling the hard work right away. However, if you have had a break from exercise or are trying something new, you might overestimate how long you can do an activity or how heavy a weight you can lift. I always favour the tortoise over the hare. Start slowly (approximately 50 per cent of what you think you can do) and progress yourself slowly. It might take a little longer to get to your peak workout benefit, but you’ll be less likely to develop an injury.

3. Follow the 10 per cent rule.

A good rule of thumb is to increase by no more than 10 per cent per week in any type of exercise. If you are doing resistance training, this applies to the amount of weight you are lifting. It could also apply to the duration or intensity of cardiovascular exercise.

4. Switch it up daily.

It is best to have at least 48 hours between similar workouts. If you like to do something every day, choose a few different activities so that you can be active each day but in different ways. This allows your muscles to recover between workouts. Without enough rest between workouts, the muscles break down instead of building up, resulting in increased weakness and higher chance of injury.

5. Listen to your body.

Exercising should not be painful. It is normal for it to feel difficult in the muscles, but it should not cause pain (particularly around the joints). If you are experiencing pain during a workout, immediately afterwards or the following morning, you should seek medical assessment by your doctor, physiotherapist or other health-care provider for guidance sooner rather than later. Often there is a simple correction to be made in technique or volume of exercise. However, the longer those errors go unchecked, the more serious injuries can become and the more difficult they can be to manage.