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After a long, lazy winter, the key is to start off slow.

Sunny days are here again, and you're aching to get outside and get a taste of spring by jogging a few miles, teeing up for a round of golf, or playing a few sets of tennis. But before you do, experts say, you need to prepare your body for your exercise program -- especially if you used the cold weather as an excuse to become a couch potato.

"People should put their pride in the back seat and not go out and try to run 10 miles on the first day after a winter of little or no physical activity," says Brian Crites, MD, head team doctor for more than 650 varsity athletes at the University of Maryland. "The 'no pain, no gain' mentality doesn't work -- you have to take it slow."

Even with the first warm days of the season calling your name, taking it slow means starting from square one: If you've been less active for a while, see your doctor before you start any new exercise program.

"Try to schedule your yearly exam to correspond with the start of spring, so you can get a clean bill of health and tell your doctor you are going to start gearing up your activity level," says Crites, who is also associate team doctor for the Baltimore Ravens.

After your doctor signs off on your health, start with a slow exercise program -- an easy walking regimen and a stretching routine, Crites advises. This will help prepare you for most casual sports, like jogging, golf and tennis.

"If you have taken the winter off, start your spring training by walking for 10 minutes every day or every other day for a week, and then the next week, walk for 15 minutes," Crites tells WebMD. "From there, work your way up by five-minute intervals each week to a 30 to 40 minute walk. And stretch as well, using a proper technique -- which means don't bounce."

This is a lot slower than most people want to go, Crites explains, but after about a month of conditioning, you'll have built up enough flexibility and endurance to move forward with a more strenuous exercise program.

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