Do I need to see a Doctor before starting an 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.

Here is a link to the PAR-Q form:

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