Springtime in the Rockies: A doctor’s advice on staying strong outdoors

May 25th, 2018

A fit man and woman in their 50's hiking the trail on a mountain ridge, a beautiful river gorge spreads out behind them. They smile, enjoying the exercise, the beauty of nature, and staying strong.

It is springtime in the Rockies and time for runners, cyclists and hikers to get outdoors. That means doctors are seeing lots of activity-related injuries, and a UCHealth doctor has advice on staying strong this spring.

“Every spring, I see a ton of injuries as people head out to the trails,” said Dr. Kristianna Roberts, a family medicine physician at UCHealth Primary Care Clinic – Broomfield.

Part of the problem is, people – tired of winter – try to get outdoors and do too much too soon, she said.

“We are lucky here in Colorado that the weather is great for outdoor activities all year long. However, the transition from one activity to another without proper training can lead to injuries,” said Roberts, who likes to hike, bike and snowboard.

If you’ve been sedentary all winter, it’s especially important to get back into exercise gradually. If you’ve been doing another sport, like skiing, you have a leg up, so to speak, on those impending summer activities.

“The best way to build stamina is to exercise regularly,” she said. “If you are a skier, that means keeping your legs strong and improving your cardiovascular health.  Doing squats and lunges are a great way to improve leg strength.  You don’t even need a gym for these.  As for cardio, anything that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes is good.”

Exercise is only factor in getting fit

Dr. Kristianna Roberts provides advice on staying strong while enjoying Colorado's outdoors.
Dr. Kristianna Roberts

“Sleep is critical when you are trying to improve your endurance,” she said. “Your body does its best healing when you sleep. Sleeping also helps recharge your brain.”

But not everyone needs the oft-recommended eight hours.

“Getting eight hours a night is a bit of a myth,” she said.  “We all have different sleep needs.  Finding the right amount is important.   It is also important to try and limit caffeine and alcohol so you do not interrupt your natural sleep process.  Make sure you are keeping a consistent schedule.  Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.”

And it’s also important to watch what you eat, she added.

“Food is our fuel,” Roberts said. “Using the right fuel means you’ll get better results. Most people do not get enough protein.  When you are endurance training and trying to get stronger you have to have protein, because it is the building blocks for your muscles.

How much protein?

“The average active person trying to gain muscle/strength needs roughly 0.8 grams of protein per pound per day. That means a person weighing 150 pounds needs 120 grams daily,” she said.

“The best way to get your nutrition is with healthy whole foods. Don’t be fooled by products that make you think they are healthy.  Granola bars are loaded with tons of extra sugar.  Try to eat foods that are not processed or are minimally processed.”

When you are exercising it is important to keep your body fueled, she added.

“Aim for 100 – 250 calories of carbohydrates for each hour, after the first hour. Try different foods and drinks to see what works best for you.”

What about energy drinks?

“Energy drinks can be helpful if used in moderation,” Roberts said. “Caffeine can improve performance in some athletes, but too much can cause nausea, anxiety and increased heart rate.”

One of the most important things a person can do to avoid injury is stretch.

“Stretching is most important once your muscles are already warmed up. Stretching before you are warm doesn’t help much,” she said. “The best way to warm up is to get blood flowing through your muscles.  If you are going to run, warm-up by walking for 5 minutes, then slowly increase to your normal pace.  For hiking, it is good to stretch when you feel your muscles getting tight.  Stretching after your activity is quite helpful for muscle recovery by increasing blood flow to these muscles.  It also helps reduce soreness.”

Are there ways to build muscle in preparation for increased activity?

“I think everyone should be lifting weights,” Roberts said. “Most Americans have sedentary jobs and would benefit from weight lifting.  It is important to have well-rounded muscle strength.  Many people think if they run they don’t need to strengthen their legs. Building your strength can make you faster.  It can also help reduce injury.”

And it’s especially good for women, she added.

“For women, it is really important as we get older to lift weights as it helps keep our bones strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.”

Rather than starting an exercise program each spring to get ready for summer fun, she said, “keeping yourself active year round is the best way to help prevent injury.”

And she has a few other tips:

“It is also very important when you are outside enjoying nature to stay hydrated,” she said. “Make sure you bring enough water with you.”

And don’t forget the sunscreen.

“At our elevation you can sunburn very fast. Apply sunscreen every 2 hours,” she said. “And even better is to cover up.  Wear a hat and long sleeves to reduce your exposure.”

Outdoor fun is only fun as long as it doesn’t hurt.

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.