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How to Safely Begin an Exercise Program

First, ask yourself these questions

Being physically active is vital to your health and can help protect you from conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and osteoporosis. Exercise can help you sleep, and research shows that being active may even lead to a longer life. It’s never too late to start a fitness program, but first ask yourself the following questions to be sure you're getting off on the right foot.

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A kayaker stretches before entering his boat

It's never too late to begin a fitness program. — David Trood/Getty Images

Moderate Activity

Moderate physical activity — brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing and gardening — that works your large muscle groups is safe for most people. But if you answer "yes" to one or more of the following questions, you may have a condition that could be made worse by exercise and should consult with your doctor before embarking on a fitness program.

Question Yes No
Have you been told by a doctor that you have a heart condition?    
Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?    
Have you had chest pain at any time in the past month?    
Have you lost your balance because of dizziness or lost consciousness?    
Do you have bone or joint problems that are made worse by physical activity?    
Do you take prescription drugs for your blood pressure or heart condition?    
Do you have other medical reasons not to be physically active?    

Vigorous Activity

Jogging, running, lap swimming, aerobic dancing, rowing, cross-country skiing, hiking and competitive group sports are all examples of vigorous activity. If you can only say a few words without stopping for breath while working out, then you’re exercising at a vigorous intensity.  

If you would like to work out at this level, check with your doctor first if you answer yes to any of the following questions:

Question Yes No
Are you a man 45 or older or a woman 55 or older?    
Do you have a heart or blood vessel disease, lung disease, asthma, thyroid disorders or kidney disease?    

Do you have two or more of the following risk factors?

Family history of heart disease

Currently smoke cigarettes

High blood pressure

High cholesterol

30 pounds or more overweight

Not physically active



What Should You Do If . . .

You become sick? Rest while you're sick is important to your body's healing process. Return to your normal activity level after you've fully recovered and feel healthy enough for exercise.

You have worrying symptoms during exercise? Learn your body’s normal response to working out. As you gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activity, your body will respond with a higher heart rate, breathing rate and perspiration level. This is normal. If you begin to feel pain or discomfort while exercising, get your doctor’s advice. It could be your body's way of warning you that something's wrong.

You may also like: 9 best exercise tips for Boomers. >>

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