Easing Into Exercise

Updated: May 24, 2018

Easing Into Exercise - Strength For Life

If you are reading this, then you understand how important exercise is to your health and well-being.  Exercise is truly medicine whose side effects are positive.  When we exercise we have more energy, feel better and help prevent many lifestyle diseases.  Exercise also helps lessen the effects of many chronic conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and even depression.

Exercise and physical activity reduces the risk of Coronary artery disease, hypertension and stroke, diabetes, obesity, back problems, and even some types of cancer. Exercise is an important factor in both losing and maintaining weight loss. People who exercise tend to live longer and have a better quality of life.  Regular exercise extends the years that we can remain active participants in life and reduces the period of sickness that many older persons experience before death.

Starting an exercise program can be intimidating, especially if you have not done any significant exercise since your last high school gym class. Infomercials promoting the latest fitness craze often resemble a marine boot camp or feature exercise equipment that could have been designed by the Marquis De Sade. Health club commercials only show young body beautiful people in form fitting spandex.  The massage we receive is that we have to get in shape before joining a health club.  No wonder people have anxiety about beginning an exercise program.

Here is the good news. Living a fit lifestyle does not have to be intimidating. As a matter of fact, your chances of success increase if you start slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do over time.  The goal is to develop a habit of consistent exercise, not to try out for the Olympics!

Did you know that just by getting up off the couch and starting a moderate exercise program, you can decrease your risk of death from all causes by about 29%? You do not need to run marathons or do thousand of pushups to improve your health.   Over time, you may find that you enjoy exercise and want to increase your fitness level even more.  But even if you just stay at the moderate level of exercise, you will feel better and improve the quality of your life.

In this report I am going to tell you what you should do before starting to exercise and give you ten simple ways to start an exercise program.  You will also learn how much exercise you will need to do to see improvement

First, let’s see if it is safe for you to start an exercise program.  If you plan to start a moderate exercise program and do not have any existing health conditions like known heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes you can start to exercise without seeing a physician. If you plan to start a vigorous exercise program and are a man who is over 40 or a woman who is over 50 years old, see your physician before starting your exercise program.  If you have not been to your physician for awhile and have not had a recent physical, I recommend that you see your physician before starting your exercise program.

How do you know whether to see a doctor before starting an exercise program?  Every book or video about starting an exercise program recommends that you should see a doctor before starting.  Is exercise really that unsafe that everyone needs an exam by a physician to determine if they can exercise without harm?

The true answer is “No”. For most people, starting an exercise program is very safe and in fact outweighs the risk of not starting an exercise program.  A lifestyle without exercise puts us at increased risk for many chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine estimate that lack of regular, moderate physical activity is responsible for the loss of as many as 25,000 lives a year.

Unless you have experienced a major cardiovascular event like a heart attack, stroke or heart surgery, or have known cardiovascular disease, you do not need to see your physician before starting a moderate physical activity program.

The key word here is moderate.  This is exactly the type of program that most fitness professionals, including myself, recommend if you are new to exercise or have not exercised in the recent past.  There are many good reasons to start with a moderate program of physical activity and progress to more intense exercise as your fitness level increases. A moderate program is easier to follow and will provide the same health benefits of a more intense program. Injury rates are lower with moderate levels of activity and the chances of long term success are better.

However, according to a 1995 article by Russell Pate and Stephen Blair in the Journal of the American Medical Association, if you decide to start a vigorous exercise program and meet any of the following criteria, then you should definitely see your physician for a medical evaluation before starting an exercise program.

  • Use tobacco

  • Have some form of cardiovascular disease

  • Have two or more of the following cardiovascular risk factors

  • High blood pressure

  • High blood cholesterol

  • A family history of heart disease

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Obesity

  • A male older than 40 years of age

  • A female older than 50 years of age

  • Answer “yes” to any of the questions listed in the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q)

The bottom line is that it is safer to start with a moderate activity program and progress to a more intense program as your body adapts to exercise. See a physician if you have known cardiovascular disease or have experienced a stroke, heart attack, heart surgery or plan to start a vigorous exercise program and have answered yes to one of the questions on the PAR-Q.

The next step is to answer the questions from the PAR-Q screening tool. The PAR-Q or Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire is a list of seven questions that helps determine if you can start an exercise program on your own or if you will need to check in with your physician before you start an exercise program.  The PAR-Q is only a screening tool.  If you would like a more definitive answer about how safe it is for you to start an exercise program, see your physician first.

A more complete assessment from a personal trainer or fitness center will include tests for mobility, strength, flexibility and balance.

If you answered yes to any of the questions on the PAR-Q, see your physician first before starting your exercise program.  Ask your physician if it is safe for you to start an exercise program.  Your physician should tell you the type of exercise that you can do and how much exercise is safe. He may recommend that you not exceed a certain heart rate.  Even if you are given some restrictions for your exercise program, you can feel good that through exercise most of these conditions will improve.

Think of your exercise program as a puzzle that you put together over time. Each piece is important for the completion on the whole picture. The puzzle is your personal picture of health and wellness.  The frame is our foundation for health and fitness and adds structure to our puzzle. By establishing a good frame, we can create a more fit and healthy core of puzzle pieces on our journey to a better you.