Do You Need to Talk to Your Doctor Before You Start an Exercise Program?
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Do You Need to Talk to Your Doctor Before You Start an Exercise Program?

For many people, starting an exercise program for the first time is quite safe. But depending on your age and whether you have certain cardiovascular risk factors, you may need to see your physician before starting a program of vigorous (as opposed to moderate) aerobic activity. The American Council on Exercise offers the following advice to help you determine if you need a doctor's permission before starting an exercise program.

General Guidelines

If you're planning to participate in vigorous activities and are a man over 40 or a woman over 50, you should have a medical exam first. The same is true if you have two or more coronary artery disease risk factors, which include:

Specific Questions to Ask Yourself

Ask yourself the following questions to help determine if you need an exercise program recommended by a physician. If you answer "yes" to any ONE of the following questions, you should talk with your doctor BEFORE you start an exercise program.

  1. Have you been told you have a heart condition and should only participate in physical activity recommended by a doctor?
  2. Do you feel pain (or discomfort) in your chest when you do physical activity? Do you feel this pain when you are not participating in physical activity?
  3. While at rest, do you frequently experience fast, irregular heartbeats or very slow heartbeats?
  4. Do you ever become dizzy and lose your balance, or lose consciousness? Have you fallen more than twice in the past year (no matter what the reason)?
  5. Do you have a bone or joint problem that could worsen as a result of physical activity? Do you have pain in your legs or buttocks when you walk?
  6. Do you take medications for blood pressure or a heart condition?
  7. Do you have any cuts or wounds on your feet that don't seem to heal?
  8. Have you experienced unexplained weight loss in the past six months?
  9. Are you aware of any reason why you should not participate in physical activity?

If you answered "no" to all of these questions, and you have no cardiovascular risk factors, a moderate physical activity program should be safe for you. But again, if you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50 and want to exercise more vigorously, you should check with your physician before getting started.


American Council on Exercise

The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports


Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology

Healthy Living Unit


Lemaitre RN, Siscovick DS, Raghunathan TE, et al. Leisure-time physical activity and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. Arch Intern Med 1999; 159:686.

Fletcher GF, Balady G, Blair SN, Blumenthal J, et al. A statement for health professionals by the Committee on Exercise and Cardiac Rehabilitation of the Council in Clinical Cardiology, American Heart Association. Circulation 1996; 94:857.

Fletcher GF, Balady G, Froelicher VF, et al. Exercise standards. A statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association. Circulation 1995; 91:580.

Powell KE, Thompson PD, Cespersen CJ, Kendrick JS. Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Annu Rev Public Health. 1987; 8:253.

Last reviewed May 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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