Clear the Way for a Fitness Program

You've heard this countless times: If you're middle-aged, elderly, pregnant, or leading a sedentary life and you're about to start an exercise program, see your doctor first.

Yet most people don't see a doctor before they begin to work out. "Usually, we see them after an injury or other problem," says Doug McKeag, M.D., director of the Indiana University Center for Sports Medicine. "Most healthy adults simply start exercising, and many times they start too fast. And that's when I see them."

Being a little overweight is usually not a problem in itself, Dr. McKeag says. But if you're obese (meaning you tip the scales at 20 percent or more above your ideal weight), "one of the other risk factors also might be present, triggering the need for a visit to a physician," he says.

As for age, you're never too old to begin exercising, as long as you have your doctor's OK. "You could be 90 and reap great benefits from an exercise program set up specifically for you," says Rebecca Jaffe, M.D., a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

No matter how young you might be, see a doctor first if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Any heart trouble, such as murmurs or rhythm disturbances

  • A family history of early heart disease or sudden death from heart attack

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • High cholesterol

  • Smoking

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