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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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April 2000

Q. Is it OK for me to exercise?

A. I don't know.

OK. So that doesn't help you much?but it emphasizes that this answer must be tailored to each individual. Almost everyone will benefit from some exercise (you should not exercise while you are having a heart attack, for example). Still, the question is, "How much exercise is right for me?"

If you are young and healthy, you should be able to start an exercise program without any difficulty. Start slow, with a steady increase in the activity. Contact your doctor should you note any unusual symptoms. I often have patients come to me concerned of shortness of breath when they exercise. There are 3 usual causes of this shortness of breath: being out of shape, being overweight, having a medical problem. Since it is hard to know which is which, if the shortness of breath is more severe than you expect, see you doctor.

If you are older and have been inactive, it is a good idea to check with your doctor first. Almost assuredly, your doctor will applaud your intentions, but you will need to be a bit more careful. In some cases, your doctor may want to do a special test to see how your heart handles the increased activity.

I like to emphasize that "exercise" does not necessarily mean activities that cause you to perspire. Walking, golf, bowling, and gardening can be great forms of exercise.

Some URLs you may find interesting include http://www.psghs.edu/pubtips/E/ExerciseandtheElderly.htm (I like the idea that we should all be active!) and http://www.nursing.uiowa.edu/gnirc/wyman.htm reviews some of the health benefits of exercise.

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