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Doing It Right: Choosing an Exercise Plan That's Right for You

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Doing It Right: Choosing an Exercise Plan That's Right for You

You can save money on health care by improving your level of physical fitness—but choosing the wrong exercise program can lead to injuries and illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that physical activity can improve your overall health while reducing your risk for many chronic diseases. However, the nonprofit Mayo Clinic notes that if you're not accustomed to exercising, you may want to begin your fitness program with a visit to your doctor, as a doctor can help you start your journey to fitness with a realistic set of goals.

"An exercise regimen isn't a sprint, it is a marathon," explains Dr. Derek H. Ochiai, an arthroscopic surgeon at Nirschl Orthopaedic Center for Sports Medicine and Joint Reconstruction in Arlington, Va. "It's a lifestyle change with the emphasis on life."

If you are middle-aged or older and not in good physical condition, working with a doctor is very important, says Ochiai, who specializes in sports medicine.

"If you have significant medical issues, if you have diabetes or are morbidly obese, or have asthma, it's something that is important to bring up to your physician," he says. "Your doctor can check to see if you have a heart murmur or any underlying conditions that might restrict your exercise."

Exercise programs can be tailored to individuals, he stresses. For example, anyone who has knee pain or has had hip surgery should see a doctor to determine what type of exercise regimen makes sense for them.

Establishing your personal fitness baseline

Consulting with a physician helps you establish a baseline of fitness that your doctor can use to measure your progress, says Jessica Lopez, fitness expert and personal coach at The Boxing Club, a training facility in La Jolla, California. Blood tests can establish if you have medical conditions that may limit your ability to exercise, such as anemia or diabetes.

Once you begin exercising, your doctor may decide to re-examine you periodically to make sure that you remain healthy and on the right track, says Ochiai.

Dr. Tim Church, Chief Medical Officer at ACAP Health in Dallas and a professor of preventative medicine at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, says that most people can start a walking regimen on their own. However, the more strenuous the exercise program, the greater the risk of injury.

"If you start a jogging or a high-intensity program, the majority of people do need to see a doctor," he says. "The big thing is your heart. You want to make sure someone doesn't have heart disease that has gone unmanaged and they go out and exercise."

Middle-aged men are often injured because they attempt to exercise at the same intensity as they did when they were high school students, he explains. "If you have been sitting at a desk for the last 15 years, that is not a great idea."

Listening to your body

People who take on too much exercise in the beginning often give up, says Dr. Ochiai.

"Sometimes people get overzealous about starting an exercise regimen and end up doing too much too quickly. They stop exercising because they don't want to hurt themselves."

Jessica Lopez notes that it helps to know your physical limitations, as you'll have a better chance at attaining fitness if you don't overexert yourself.

"Listen to your body, take your time, and allow your body to adapt and heal," she says.

Carol Green, a physical therapist and certified orthopedic manual therapist at OrthoCarolina in Charlotte, North Carolina, says her older clients avoid injury by not engaging in jogging or other high-impact activities. They often benefit most from exercise machines that improve cardiovascular endurance without causing injuries.

Knowing that everyone can benefit

Everyone can improve their health through exercise, including people with physical disabilities. The key to success is finding the right program. For example, sports activities have been developed for people who use wheelchairs. The LIVESTRONG.COM website notes that wheelchair sports programs often are offered through rehabilitation clinics or municipal recreational programs.

According to the AARP, an advocacy group for people age 50 and older, it's a mistake to assume that you cannot benefit from exercise just because you are older or disabled. If you work with a medical professional or a qualified personal trainer, you are likely to find an exercise routine that's appropriate for you.


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