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Exercising Safely

How Can I Exercise Safely?

By Bobbie Hasselbring

Tips for Exercise Success

Keep your motivation high and prevent injuries during exercise with these strategies.

  • Prevent injury.
    • Start slowly and build up.
    • Warm up and cool down.
    • Pay attention to your body.
  • Be comfortable.
    • Wear comfortable, appropriate clothes.
    • Drink plenty of water.
    • Choose activities you enjoy.
    • Work out with a friend.
    • Don't compete with others.
  • Create a routine.
    • Make your daily life more active.
    • Schedule time for exercise.
  • Note your progress.
    • Set goals and keep track of your progress.
    • Reward yourself.

There are no magic tricks to guarantee success with an exercise program. But there are several strategies that can help you exercise safely. This helps make your program more enjoyable so that you can stick with it. The first step is safety so you avoid injuries that could make exercise unpleasant or even impossible.

Here's how to exercise safely.

  • Start slowly and build up.
  • Warm up and cool down.
  • Pay attention to your body.

Start Slowly and Build Up

Start with a level of exercise that you can manage. This is important for safety reasons. You'll also feel more like sticking with your exercise. Plus, you'll avoid overexerting yourself.

How starting slowly helps you stick with exercise. By starting slowly and building up gradually, you can help avoid injuries. A slow start also lets your body adjust to the demands of increased activity.

By pacing yourself you also achieve some mental benefits. You give yourself the chance to set new goals as you go along and to try new challenges. This can help keep you motivated - no one can accomplish his or her goals all at once. Also, if you push yourself too hard or tell yourself that you're not doing enough, this can make you feel bad and make you want to quit.

So give yourself the gift of starting at a level that you can manage. Doing so makes you more apt to stick with your program and to feel good while you're being active.

How to work up. If you haven't been physically active for a while, you may want to start with 10 to 15 minutes of walking three times a week.

Over time, gradually build your activity level. Do this by increasing your frequency, intensity, and time. Your goal should be to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise 3 to 7 days a week. You may choose to use your target heart rate as a guide for the intensity of your exercise.

Depending on the health of your heart, your doctor may set different goals for you at first. Also, if you're overweight or if you've been inactive for a long period, it may take several months to build up to this level.

See your doctor if you're watching your pace and still have any of these symptoms:

  • rapid pulse that doesn't slow down during your 10-minute cool-down period
  • nausea or vomiting following physical activity
  • extreme breathlessness that lasts more than 10 minutes after you stop your physical activity
  • fatigue that lasts for 24 hours or more after a workout

Also, get immediate medical help if exercise triggers any of these symptoms:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • pain that radiates down your left arm, shoulders, back, or jaw
  • abnormal heart activity, such as fluttering, jumping, palpitations, sudden rapid heartbeat, or sudden slowing of a rapid heartbeat
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • cold sweat
  • pale skin
  • fainting
  • sudden lack of coordination

What to watch for. Every year, about 5% of heart attacks occur after heavy exertion. Avoid activities that stress your heart and raise your blood pressure. Shoveling snow and lifting heavy objects are two examples of this type of activity. Such activities can cause the arteries supplying blood to your heart muscle to narrow.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Ease into your activity.

How warming up helps you stick with exercise. When you take the time to warm up and cool down, you'll enjoy your exercise more and be less prone to get strained muscles or other discomfort.

In addition to the physical benefits, warming up and light stretching can help keep you from feeling discouraged or being too hard on yourself at the outset. If you try to launch right into your exercise pace, you may feel slow or heavy at first. But once you get your blood flowing and your muscles warm and loose, it should be easier. Allow yourself these extra moments to get your body and mind ready. It will be key to maintaining your desire to be active on a regular basis.

Warming up and cooling down are especially important for reducing the risk of a heart attack during or after physical activity. Warming up gradually increases blood flow to your muscles.

How to warm up. Take 5 to 10 minutes to warm up, then stretch, before you get into your program. For instance, if you've chosen walking as your activity, stroll at a comfortable pace to warm your muscles.

Next, gently stretch your arms, legs, and torso. Then move into your exercise pace.

How to cool down. When you've finished your workout, cool down for 5 to 10 minutes by walking at a slower pace; then stretch again. This time, hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.

This is your opportunity to gain flexibility and keep your joints limber. Stretching can also help prevent soreness the next day, which might keep you from exercising again. Your cooldown period is also a great time to enjoy the positive feelings that your workout generated and to pat yourself on the back for the effort you just put into it.

Pay Attention to Your Body

You need to listen to what your body is telling you.

How your body's signals help you stick with exercise. If you feel pain, you need to respond to it. If you don't, you could end up not being able to exercise for a while, or you could cause more serious problems.

If you've been inactive for some time, you may feel somewhat stiff the day after a workout. A little bit of stiffness is normal. You can help prevent this by warming up, stretching, and cooling down. Gentle stretching and over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, will usually take care of it. Talk to your doctor before starting your exercise program and see what pain reliever he or she would recommend before you begin taking any.

You shouldn't have pain or marked soreness after exercising. If you do, you may have pushed yourself too hard. Take it a little easier next time; then increase your workout as you are able.

How to listen to your body. Stop your workout and call for medical help immediately if you develop any of these symptoms while you are exercising:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • pain that radiates down your left arm, shoulders, back, or jaw
  • abnormal heart activity, such as fluttering, jumping, palpitations, sudden rapid heartbeat, or sudden slowing of a rapid heartbeat
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • cold sweat
  • pale skin
  • fainting
  • sudden lack of coordination

Contact Information

Tanger Be Well Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Clinical Center
Ground Level
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-667-4695
617-975-5175