Updated August 2020
Most people instinctively know that regular physical activity is good for their health. Google the word “exercise” and you will come across hundreds of thousands of studies that prove this by showing the many health benefits of exercise.
These include: reducing risk of heart disease, strengthening bones, preventing diabetes, and improving memory and mood.
But don’t jump the gun! Despite all of the positive effects of exercise, there are situations where it’s important to talk to a doctor before starting an exercise program.
Tell a doctor about your exercise goals, in order to identify any medical problems that might put you at risk for injury or illness. This communication will reduce your risk while helping you to improve your overall performance. It’s especially important to see a doctor before starting even a moderate level of exercise if you have any known health conditions, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease (past history of a heart attack, irregular heart rhythms, heart murmurs)
- Lung disease (asthma or COPD)
- You are diabetic or have liver or kidney disease
- You have musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis
- You have had symptoms suggestive of any of the above including chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, ankle swelling, muscle pain
- You don’t know your health status
- You are pregnant
If you plan to exercise more vigorously (i.e. you may be training for a marathon), there are other risk factors to consider (age, gender, and family history). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends seeing a doctor if two or more of the following apply:
- You are older than 45 and male.
- You are older than 55 and female.
- You have a family history of heart disease before age 55.
- You have been a smoker within 6 months before starting to exercise.
- You have not exercised for 3 or more months
- You are overweight or obese.
- You have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- You have impaired glucose tolerance or pre-diabetes.
It never hurts to get a professional opinion before making a change in your lifestyle. Studies also show that you will be more apt to stick to your exercise plan and achieve your goals if you share them with your doctor. This way, you can make an individualized plan that works for you. Get help from a board-certified physician and get moving.