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


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 okay 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 approved 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?
  • 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 lightheaded, 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 medications 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 had unexplained weight loss?
  • 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

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.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 February 19, 2014.

Coronary artery disease (CAD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed February 19, 2014.

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 February 2014 by Michael Woods, 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.

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