Should I be free of serious health risks before starting a fitness program?

You should be cleared for physical activity before beginning a fitness program. If you have serious health risks, you should consult a health professional who can help tailor a fitness program that is right for you. The health risks may not necessarily prevent you from starting a program, but they definitely need to be taken into consideration when creating the program. If you do not seek medical guidance, you could unintentionally cause additional harm and expose yourself to greater risk.

Scott F. Hansen, MD
Orthopedic Surgery

To help determine if it’s safe to begin pursuing a fitness or structured exercise program one should answer a few questions. They are organized in a fitness questionnaire we refer to as PARQ.  (Found in the British Columbia Medical Journal.)

These questions include: 

  1. Has a doctor ever said you have heart trouble? 
  2. Do you suffer frequently from chest pain? 
  3. Do you often feel faint or have spells of severe dizziness? 
  4. Has a doctor ever said your blood pressure was too high? 
  5. Has a doctor ever told you you have a bone or joint problem, such as arthritis, that may be aggrevated by exercise? 
  6. Are you over age 65 and not accustomed to any exercise? 
  7. Are you taking and prescription medication, such as those for heart problems or high blood pressure?  
  8. Is there a good physical reason not mentioned here that you should not follow and activity program?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should seek advice from your doctor about your beginning an exercise program.   If all answers are no, then begin exercise gradually and see how you do.

All individuals are encouraged to regularly participate in a physical activity program that includes structured exercise and/or lifestyle physical activity.  To understand its value consider this quote from the Journal of the American Medical Association.  “There is no drug in current or prospective use that holds as much promise for sustained health as a lifetime program of physical exercise”.

Structured exercises including cardiovascular activity, muscle resistance and strengthening and stretching for flexibility help prevent serious health problems and can improve many existing health problems.

It is necessary to be medically approved AND scheduled to work with a qualified fitness professional that is in contact with your physician before beginning exercise if you have a medical history. It is ideal, to be free of serious health risks before starting a fitness program but, not required if you are cleared for exercise by your physician and your fitness professional has a clear understanding of your health risks, can develop medically specific fitness programs that are approved by your physician, and has an organized way to re-assess and communicate with you and your physician as to your progress and medical markers. Exercise can be a great way to combat and often time improve the effects of health problems with the right professional support team backing you up.

You should consult your physician prior to starting any fitness program, regardless of health risks. Your doctor will provide guidance/direction on best way to get started. 

Whether you should be free of health risks is all dependent on what the risks are. Your doctor is the best judge of whether you are ready to begin a fitness program and how that program should begin. 

Fitness programs can improve most health issues. It is important to have a certified personal trainer work with you to develop a safe and progressive training program.

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
For most people physical activity should not pose any problem or hazard. PAR-Q has been designed to identify the small number of adults for whom physical activity might be inappropriate or those who should have medical advice concerning the type of activity most suitable for them.

Common sense is your best guide in answering these few questions. Please read them carefully and check the yes or no opposite the question if it applies to you.

  • Has your doctor ever said you have heart trouble?
  • Do you frequently have pains in your heart and chest?
  • Do you often feel faint or have spells of severe dizziness?
  • Has a doctor ever said your blood pressure was too high?
  • Has your doctor ever told you that you have a bone or joint problem such as arthritis that has been aggravated by exercise, or might be made worse with exercise?
  • Is there a good physical reason not mentioned here why you should not follow an activity program even if you wanted to?
  • Are you over age 65 and not accustomed to vigorous exercise?
If you answered YES to one or more questions...
if you have not recently done so, consult with your personal physician by telephone or in person before increasing your physical activity and/or taking a fitness test.

If you answered NO to all questions...
If you answered PAR-Q accurately, you have reasonable assurance of your present suitability for an exercise test.  You should consider consulting with a qualified personal trainer to asssit you assessing your current fitness status and design a safe, individualized, and goal-specific fitness program for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.