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Do You Need To See A Doctor Before You Start Exercising?

The American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and many other reputable medical organizations now recognize a sedentary lifestyle as a health hazard. The goal, then, of any exercise program is to enhance the quality of your life. However, for certain people, exercise can be counterproductive because of existing health conditions.

Responsible fitness centers require you to fill a health history form to determine whether you need to see a doctor or not before you start to exercise. If a staff member feels you have a condition that requires you to see a doctor before you can start exercising, please don't take it as a personal insult (it's amazing but some people get very irritated by this). In fact, you should congratulate yourself for finding a professionally run gym. What if you wish to exercise on your own or the fitness center you want to join doesn't do any health screening?

To protect yourself, here are guidelines from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine to help you determine whether you need to pay a visit to your family doctor before embarking on a more physically active lifestyle.

What kind of exercise are you planning to do?
The first question you have to answer is what kind of exercise are you planning on starting. More specifically, at what exercise intensity will you be working out?

Low-to-moderate intensity is usually defined as an intensity that can be sustained very comfortably for a long period of time (60 minutes or more!). An example of this type of exercise is walking at a normal pace.

A vigorous intensity means an intensity that significantly raises both your heart and breathing rates. It is usually performed for 20 to 30 minutes before fatigue starts to set in. An example would be a singles tennis match.

If you are planning to do exercise with a vigorous or high intensity and you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50 you need to get a medical exam first. No matter what age you are, if you are planning to do vigorous or high intensity exercise and you have two or more coronary artery disease (CAD) risk factors, you also need to get a medical exam. If you are not sure about the CAD risk factors and how they apply to you, check with your family doctor.

Coronary Artery Disease risk factors.

If you are only planning to do exercise with a low-to-moderate intensity, you don't need to see your doctor yet but you do need to answer a second set of questions before you start exercising.

More questions.
A "yes" answer to any ONE of the following questions means you should talk with your doctor, by telephone or in person BEFORE you start an exercise program. Explain to your doctor, which questions you answered yes to, and what kind of physical activity you are planning to do.

  1. Have you been told you have a heart condition and should only participate in physical activity recommended by a doctor?
  2. Do you feel pain (or discomfort) in your chest when you do physical activity? How about when you are not participating in physical activity? While at rest, do you frequently experience fast, irregular heartbeats or very slow beats?
  3. Do you ever become dizzy and lose your balance, or lose consciousness? Have you fallen more than twice in the past year (no matter what the reason)?
  4. Do you have a bone or joint problem that could worsen because of physical activity? Do you have pain in your legs or buttocks when you walk?
  5. Do you take blood pressure or heart medications?
  6. Do you have any cuts or wounds on your feet that don't seem to heal?
  7. Have you experienced unexplained weight loss in the past six months?
  8. Are you aware of any reason why you should not participate in physical activity?

Be honest!
It's true that most of us do not want to see our doctor unless we really have to (no offense, docs!) so the temptation to be a little less than truthful when answering questionnaires of this sort is very great. Be honest because the one who will suffer the most if any goes wrong will be you.

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above…go see your doctor. Don't worry, most of the time, the doctor will tell you to go ahead and exercise as long as you do it slowly, gradually and at your own pace. In fact, he/she will usually say "that's exactly why you need to exercise!"

However, sometimes, it can be something serious that can be exacerbated if you start an exercise program at this particular time in your life. Be responsible for your own health because nobody else cares more for you than you.

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