Tips on exercising safely and soundly

Most people can and should exercise. However, there are individuals who should get their doctor's permission prior to beginning an exercise program. Anyone with an unstable medical condition will want to seek an exercise prescription from their doctor.

Injury may also require an individual to wait for the healing to be complete prior to beginning exercise. If you have cardiac, pulmonary, or metabolic disease, you should begin your exercise in a medically supervised environment.

Start slowly - Listen to your body and your doctor. For moderate endurance exercise, simply walk a little further each time you exercise and gradually increase the pace of your walks as the weeks pass. For strength exercise, lift a weight that you usually lift, but do it more times than normal.

Before beginning an aggressive exercise program, you should see your doctor or an exercise professional for screening tests and program advice.

The biggest risk to exercise is not starting. You should consider several factors when choosing an aerobic activity for your personal fitness program.

Impact - Some activities involve jumping or pounding that may be uncomfortable or can lead to injury. Swimming, cross-country skiing, in-line skating, cycling and rowing are easier on the joints.

Convenience - Some aerobic activities require expensive equipment, are seasonal or are not readily available in certain locations.

Skill - Activities that require a lot of skill may discourage you. Try to avoid activities that do not fit with your skill base, and don't quit before you've developed the skills you need for the activity to become enjoyable.

Social factor - Exercising with a group can be fun and beneficial. Sometimes exercising with other people is such fun that you're more likely to continue your fitness program. For safety reasons, some aerobic activities are best done with a group.

You should always be able to catch your breath and speak comfortably while exercising. It's normal to sense a little discomfort, but you should never sense pain. Always remember to warm up slowly and to cool down gradually. If you use a trainer, be sure to check credentials. The exercise industry is not well regulated, so be sure to ask questions and seek certified individuals.

Five easy steps to begin endurance exercise

1. Where and what? Do you prefer to walk, ride or row? Or a combination? All are great! Swimming and stair-stepping are also good endurance exercises, get well-made equipment (e.g., walking shoes with good stability).

2. How hard? Monitor your exercise intensity and duration. Start each session slowly and give yourself time to warm up (five minutes). Judge how your body feels to help monitor exercise intensity. You should never be in pain or be unable to speak. If you are on medications that affect your heart rate, talk to your doctor. Start slowly but plan to work a little harder as weeks go by.

3. How long? Duration may be five minutes at first but plan to gradually increase, progress to at least 20 minutes of continuous exercise each day - 30 to 45 minutes is ideal.

4. How often? Endurance exercise should be done three to five days each week (do strength exercises on other days). If you do endurance exercise daily, alternate weight-bearing with non-weight-bearing (i.e., walk one day, then ride or swim the next day).

5. Safety? Be cautious if you start endurance exercise without professional guidance. Consider exercising with a partner or in a supervised facility. Consider seeing your doctor and an exercise professional before starting your endurance exercise program.

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