Perhaps you’ve decided you want to start exercising to get physically fit. Maybe you want to ease or prevent chronic health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, or maybe you want to lose that extra weight. Whatever your motivation, you have made a wise decision – you are going to exercise.
“This is an excellent first step,” said orthopedic specialist David B. Gealt, DO, of the Cooper Bone & Joint Institute. “For your next move, see your doctor.”
Carol Stratton, MSPT, CLT, ATC, Director of Sports Medicine Rehabilitation at the Cooper Bone and Joint Institute, agreed.
“We all know the importance of getting plenty of exercise. Being physically active reduces your risk for a host of diseases and increases your lifespan and quality of life.”
But, Stratton cautioned that you need to check with your doctor before embarking on an exercise plan, especially if you have:
- A heart condition.
- High blood pressure.
- A family history of heart disease.
- A medical history that requires medical clearance.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- A history of smoking.
You also should 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 to review risk factors associated with exercise.
“A doctor will take your medical history and ask questions such as whether you have chest pains or shortness of breath. For instance, can you carry groceries up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath?” Dr. Gealt 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 cause 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 instituting an exercise program,” Dr. Gealt said. “If someone has coronary disease, heart valve problems or arrhythmias, then these should be diagnosed and treated before beginning an exercise program. Often, one will need to be seen by a cardiologist.”
Another potential problem area 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. This is highly recommended for women and men over the age of 50.
Equally as serious is type 2 diabetes, which affects nearly 24 million Americans, of whom an estimated 25 percent don’t know that they have the disease because they experience no symptoms. Certain factors, such as being overweight and having a family history of the condition, increase your risk. To control your diabetes, you need to carefully plan your meals and exercises.
If you have asthma, you should be certain that your condition is well controlled. To be sure, check with your doctor.
“The idea is to go slow,” said Dr. Gealt. “For most people, a walking program is the best way to get started. Swimming and cycling can also be good choices. Whichever exercise you choose, slowly build the time and the intensity you spend doing it from week to week.”
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 if you have one.
- Enlist a walking buddy to help you stay motivated.