Ready ... set ... go safely on field day

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo -- It's that time of year again. The 21st Space Wing Sports Day is around the corner and offers plenty of opportunities for fun, but also injury if you do not think about safety first.

Whether you plan to swim, play soccer, flag football, golf or play combat dominoes, following proven injury prevention techniques offered by the National Institutes of Health will reduce sports-related injuries and make you "fit to fight."

Start at the top: your head. Always wear a helmet made for the sport you're playing. For example, a bike helmet should have a sticker that says the helmet meets the safety standard set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If you use a multi-sport helmet for in-line skating and skateboarding, it is not considered safe for bicycle riding unless it has the CPSC sticker.

Don't be a weekend warrior. Even though the weather is great, catching up on your exercise or playing sports only on the weekend creates stress and strain on your "under-used" muscles. Try to maintain at least a moderate level of physical activity throughout the week.

Know your limits. For the older folks who may not have noticed (or accepted) that their body may not perform as well as it did 20 or even 10 years ago - don't overdo it. Regardless of age, everyone should increase activity gradually until reaching fitness goals. Total body fitness is achieved through a variety of cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility exercises.

Use appropriate gear. Wrong or improperly fitted equipment is a leading cause of sports injuries. Depending on the sport, this may mean wrist or knee guards to prevent arm and wrist fractures, and to shield knees from cuts and torn ligaments.

Get off on the right foot and choose appropriate shoes for your activity. Wear properly fitting shoes that provide shock absorption and stability. For runners, use the softest and flattest exercise surface available, and avoid running on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete. Running uphill increases stress on the Achilles tendon and the leg.

Always warm-up and stretch before exercising. Avoid bending knees past 90 degrees when doing half knee bends. Avoid twisting knees by keeping feet as flat as possible during stretches. When jumping, land with your knees bent. Hold the position when stretching, don't bounce.

As Maj. Gen. Maurice McFann, the Air Force Chief of Safety, recently said, "People who are more fit have better health and do better at their jobs across the board."

Take time to review safety guidelines and adhere to guidelines provided by the National Institutes of Health. Stay in the game. Don't limp to the sidelines - or worse - to the emergency room.