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Do You Need to Talk to Your Doctor Before You Start an Exercise Program?

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General Guidelines | Specific Questions to Ask Yourself

For many people, starting an exercise program for the first time is quite safe. But depending on your age and whether you have certain cardiovascular risk factors, you may need to see your doctor before starting a program of vigorous (as opposed to moderate) aerobic activity. The American Council on Exercise offers the following advice to help you determine if you need a doctor's permission before starting an exercise program.

General Guidelines

If you are planning to participate in vigorous activities and are a man over 45 or a woman over 55, you should have a medical exam first. The same is true if you have two or more coronary artery disease risk factors, which include:

Specific Questions to Ask Yourself

Ask yourself the following questions to help determine if you need an exercise program recommended by a doctor. If you answer "yes" to any ONE of the following questions, you should talk with your doctor BEFORE you start an exercise program.

  • Do you have a heart condition? Should you only do exercises that your doctor recommends?
  • Do you have chest pain or discomfort when you are physically active? Do you have this pain even when you are not exercising?
  • Does your heart often beat too fast or too slow when you are at rest?
  • Do you become dizzy, lose your balance, or lose consciousness? During the past year, have you fallen more than two times?
  • Do you have problems with your bones or joints? If so, does this problem become worse when you exercise? Do your legs or buttocks hurt when you walk?
  • Do you take medicines to treat a heart condition or a blood pressure problem?
  • Do you have any wounds on your feet? Do these wounds take a long time to heal?
  • During the past six months, have you lost weight for no apparent reason?
  • Can you think of any reason why you should not get involved in an exercise program?

If you answered "no" to all of these questions and you have no cardiovascular risk factors, a moderate physical activity program should be safe for you. But again, if you are a man over 45 or a woman over 55 and want to exercise more vigorously, you should check with your doctor before getting started.

RESOURCES:

American Council on Exercise

http://www.acefitness.org/

The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports

http://www.fitness.gov/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology

http://www.csep.ca/

References:

Before you start an exercise program. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_display.aspx?itemid=2612. Accessed May 14, 2012.

Coronary arter disease (CAD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 14, 2012. Accessed May 14, 2012.

Fletcher GF, Balady G, Blair SN, et al. A statement for health professionals by the Committee on Exercise and Cardiac Rehabilitation of the Council in Clinical Cardiology, American Heart Association. Circulation 1996; 94:857.

Fletcher GF, Balady G, Froelicher VF, et al. Exercise standards. A statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association. Circulation 1995; 91:580.

Lemaitre RN, Siscovick DS, Raghunathan TE, et al. Leisure-time physical activity and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. Arch Intern Med 1999; 159:686.

Powell KE, Thompson PD, Cespersen CJ, Kendrick JS. Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Annu Rev Public Health. 1987; 8:253.

Last reviewed May 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.