Perhaps you’ve just had a heart attack and plan to change your lifestyle. Maybe you just want to prevent diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, or you need to lose some weight. Whatever your motivation, you have made an important decision – you are going to exercise.
This is an excellent first step, says Daniel Hyman, D.O., an internal medicine physician at Cooper University Hospital. For your next move, see your doctor.
“We always talk to our patients about getting plenty of exercise, especially if they have been sedentary for years. We give them encouragement and guidance for getting started. Being physically active reduces your risk for a host of diseases and increases your lifespan and quality of life,” Dr. Hyman said.
But Dr. Hyman cautions you may need to check in with your doctor before embarking on your new habit. This is especially important if you have:
- A heart condition
- A family history of heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- A history of smoking
You should also talk to your doctor if you have ever injured a joint at some point during your life or are obese. People who are 50 and older should also consider a visit with the physician.
“When you come for an appointment, we first take a medical history. So we’ll ask you questions about whether you have chest pains or shortness of breath. For instance, can you carry groceries up two flights of steps without getting out of breath?” he said.
Reporting any symptoms that you may have can help your doctor diagnose and treat you. However, high blood pressure and high cholesterol generally do not have symptoms. If left unchecked, these conditions can eventually increase your risk for heart attack, stroke and other problems. The likelihood for developing these conditions increases as you age.
“Certain cardiac conditions need to be fully evaluated prior to an exercise program,” Dr. Hyman said. “If someone has coronary disease, heart valve problems or arrhythmias, then these should be diagnosed and treated before beginning an exercise program. Often they will need to be seen by a cardiologist.”
Another problem you should have diagnosed before starting your exercise program is osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease, which sometimes isn’t diagnosed until a bone is broken or fractured.
Equally as serious is type 2 diabetes, which affects 21 million Americans. One third of these individuals don’t know that they have it. Certain factors such as being overweight and having a family history of the condition increases your risk. To control your diabetes, you need to carefully plan your meal and exercises.
If you have asthma, you should be certain that your condition is well-controlled. To be sure, check in with your doctor.
The idea is to go slow, Dr. Hyman says. For most people, a walking program is the best way to get started. Swimming and cycling can also be good choices. With whichever exercise you choose, slowly build the time and the intensity you spend doing it from week to week.
Be sure to monitor your target heart rate so that you aren’t pushing yourself too hard. Taking your pulse to determine your heart rate is easy: To take your pulse, you don’t need fancy gadgets. Use your index and pointer fingers and place them on your wrist or on either side of your windpipe until you feel a pulse. Count the beats for 30 seconds using a watch with a second hand. Then double these results to get your beats per minute. The usual resting pulse for an adult is 50 to 100 beats per minute.A goal heart rate can be calculated by taking 80 percent of 220 minus your age. If you are 40 years old, your goal would be 144. The equation would be: (220 – your age) x 0.8.
“Once you have worked your way up to your target heart rate after a few weeks, an excellent aerobic workout would be to maintain this heart rate for 20 minutes,” Dr. Hyman says.
When you do get the go-ahead from your doctor, be sure to pay attention to your body.
Symptoms that warn you to stop exercising and see your doctor include:
- Chest tightness
- Arm pains
- Any unusual pains or symptoms that you don’t normally experience during routine workouts
Here are some exercise tips:
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after your activity. Stay away from the high-calorie energy drinks.
- Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing and shoes.
- Keep a list of any medications as well your name and emergency contact information with you.
- Carry a cell phone or walkie-talkie.
- Enlist a walking buddy to help you stay motivated.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with a Cooper University Hospital physician, please call (800) 8-COOPER.