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Healthline: Take exercise ‘low and slow’ if you’ve been stagnant for the winter

PAID CONTENT | sponsored by St. Luke's Health Network

Black bears who hibernate when the weather turns cold aren’t the only Carbon and Schuylkill County inhabitants who take it easy in the winter.

Many people are less active.

But unlike bears, who, according to studies, retain their strength without exercise, sedentary humans quickly lose it.

And they can become injured by jumping into strenuous activities too soon.

Sports medicine specialists Richard Sirard, MD, and Eric Pridgen, MD, of St. Luke’s Orthopedic Care in Lehighton and Palmerton, said each spring, they treat patients who have become deconditioned from inactivity during the winter and then injure themselves by overdoing a sport or activity.

Common spring injuries include sprains, strains, dislocated joints and stress injuries.

Dr. Sirard, a sports medicine physician, focuses on nonsurgical treatments.

His particular interest is treating concussions.

Dr. Pridgen, an orthopedic surgeon, also offers surgical options. They both treat patients for bone, muscle and joint injuries.

For people who have slacked off on exercising during the winter, Dr. Sirard suggests, “Go low and slow,” meaning start with low-impact exercise and slowly build up intensity and time.

Dr. Pridgen added, “Don’t go from 0 to 100 on the first warm day. Ease back into things. If you like to hike, don’t start with a 10-mile hike, but something easier. Don’t ask your body to do something it might not be able to do and put yourself at risk of injury.”

Dr. Sirard recalled a patient who hadn’t exercised in 30 years but then aggressively started a walking program. She developed a stress fracture from doing too much too soon.

He recommends starting to walk with half a mile a day and adding half a mile each week.

Dr. Pridgen said “sports medicine” is a bit of a misnomer because, on a typical day, his patients ranged from an eight-year-old with an injured wrist to an arthritis patient in his 80s.

“Sports medicine isn’t only for athletes,” Dr. Pridgen said.

“It’s really focused on helping patients maintain a healthy lifestyle, whether they’re athletes, weekend warriors, or someone who wants to play with their kids. My job is to get to know the things you like to do, your job, and your family-all those factors come into how we tailor a treatment plan that best suits you.”

Dr. Sirard advises patients to see their primary care doctor before starting an exercise program if they are on any medications or older than 50 years old, especially if they have a heart condition or a chronic disease like diabetes.

Choosing medicine over Olympics

Two of Dr. Richard Sirard’s favorite childhood activities were sports and playing doctor. Today, as a sports medicine physician, he works with athletes while practicing medicine.

By age 5, he knew he wanted to be a doctor. His father was a pharmacist and his friends’ parents were physicians, including one who brought home face masks for his son and friends to play with.

“I liked science and math and helping people, so I decided to pursue medicine and use my love of science to help people,” he said. During his residency, he covered some football games and learned he liked sports medicine, so he completed a fellowship in the field.

Raised in a California farm town, he loved sports. He began swimming when he was 4. By age 15, he realized he loved running and liked biking as well. So, he trained to be a triathlete and won the National High School Triathlon Championship in 1989.

He raced until he was 23 but stopped competing to complete biological science classes needed for medical school. Then, the triathlon was added to the 2000 Olympic Games.

With his wife’s support, he returned to competition as a professional. But he broke his ankle while running down a steep hill during a race, killing his chances of making the Olympic team.

After recuperating, he resumed training with his eye on the 2004 Olympics. Then, he changed his mind after a discussion with his brother.

“He said, ‘You’re not getting any younger. They’re not going to want you.’ I was 31 at the time. I realized it was time to do what I was supposed to. I went to med school the next year.”

Today, when asked if he’d rather have an Olympic gold medal or a medical degree, he responds without hesitation, “medical degree.”

A woman jogs in the park after a break for winter. COURTESY OF METROGRAPHICS
Dr. Eric Pridgen
Dr. Barry Sirard