Millions of people are trying to improve their lifestyle as they are beginning to realize that they can reduce their health risks and lengthen their life through exercise. However, these weekend athletes are getting into trouble trying to stay in shape. An exercise program should be

performed a few times per week, not just on the weekends. We must remember that the ancient Greeks kept their bodies in good health by going to the gym on a daily basis.

The weekend athlete is prone to acute injury, which may become chronic as he lacks conditioning. One of the key components to prevent injury is flexibility. When you are young, there is a high percentage of elastin -- elastic material in our collagen which is the glue that holds the body structures together.

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However, as the body ages, there is less elastin and you begin to feel stiff and may even think it is arthritis. This loss of elastin and flexibility opens an avenue for injury which will not heal as easily or as fast.

The first signals of injury are swelling and aching. However, lack of flexibility is not always the cause of foot, ankle, knee and lower back problems, but often an imbalance of the bones of the feet that will result in "overuse" or stress on the structures.

The racquet sports (tennis, squash, racquetball and badminton) are very high in sports injuries because of the stress put on the body -- especially the feet -- during play. It is important to check for foot imbalances.

Warmup exercises for flexibility are a must before any athletic activity to help prevent muscle and tendon injuries. Jogging, walking briskly or a few short sprints will allow the muscles and tendons to get ready. Strengthening exercises for the muscles, especially the front lower leg and upper thigh is also necessary to help prevent injury. Other preventative measures include wearing only the best athletic shoes for your sport and examining old shoes for wear areas and imbalances.

With proper conditioning as well as flexibility and strengthening exercises, you can prevent the possibility of injury and hopefully live a long and healthy life.

Dr. Robert Weiss, a sports podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee for the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trails.