A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Should you see a doctor before starting an exercise program?

Middle-aged men playing basketball - New exercise program precautions

Talk to your doctor about personal and family history of heart problems and past muscle and joint injuries before starting a new exercise program.

You’ve probably heard this advice before: Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Maybe you’ve heard the advice so much you’ve started to ignore it, but you shouldn’t.

“Scheduling a wellness visit prior to a substantial change in your exercise routine is never a bad idea,” said Dr. Brandon Parkhurst, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician.

Do you really need an appointment?

Your age, health status and the type of exercise you plan to do play a role in how important it is to make that appointment before starting your fitness program.

“A 20-year-old who is a healthy weight but hasn’t done a lot of physical activity can start almost any exercise regimen successfully,” Parkhurst said. “A 55-year-old who has a sedentary lifestyle, is overweight and wants to start more intense exercise should see his or her primary care provider to reduce risk of illness or injury.”

Most people can safely begin a walking program without talking to their doctor, even if they’re starting from a sedentary lifestyle. Seeing a doctor is a good idea if you have existing medical conditions that could impact your risk for illness or injury, including high blood pressure, diabetes, previous heart problems, or a history of significant muscle, bone or joint injuries in the past.

Ease your way into a new routine no matter your fitness level, prior experience or age. Injury risk is high if you do too much too soon. You may need to start with walking even if your goal is to run a marathon.

Mention symptoms that happen with exercise

Your doctor will assess your risk factors for chronic disease like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. He or she will ask about family history and check your weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

Sharing family history of heart problems is especially important when you’re about to start an exercise program. You also should mention unusual symptoms you have while exercising.

“Tell your doctor about dizziness, shortness of breath or chest pain during exercise,” Parkhurst said. “Bring up any musculoskeletal concerns, like muscle or joint pain when you exercise and history of broken bones and injuries.”

Heart concerns need more evaluation

Your risk of having a heart attack while working out is relatively low, but your doctor may want you to take precautions if you have risk factors for heart disease or personal or family history of heart problems.

You may need extra testing to determine your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor can help you come up with a safe plan to be more active.

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