Play Ball: Sports Day is almost here!

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 to get hurt -- but not if is Airmen take a few moments to think about safety first.

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

Let's start at the top: the head. Always wear a helmet made for the sport being played. 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 a member uses a multi-sport helmet for in-line skating and skateboarding, it's 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 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 older individuals, they may not have noticed, but the body may not perform as well as it did 20 or even 10 years ago. Don't overdo it. Regardless of a member's age, everyone should increase their activity gradually until reaching a fitness goal. 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 an activity. Wear properly fitting shoes that provide shock absorption and stability. For those 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 the knees bent. Hold the position when stretching, don't bounce.

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.