Getting Fit the RIGHT Way, part 1: The Pre-Exercise Doctor Visit

Are you going to resolve to lose weight for this New Year? Then take it from someone who knows: when you’re starting a new exercise routine, whether you’ve not been exercising for a few months or a few years, you can’t just jump into some kind of hardcore workout schedule. If you do, you’ll end up hurt and you won’t continue the good work you tried to begin.

I think this is where a lot of New Year’s weight-loss resolutions end up dying–we start out trying to do too much too fast, and we don’t take our bodies’ needs into account. I know I certainly made that mistake, all the times I tried and failed to begin an exercise regimen. Given that my past experience of exercise (counting humiliating gym classes in school) had largely been painful and arduous, without a scrap of fun or reward in sight, I didn’t know how else to exercise but to do some repetitious and painful movements that made me feel 3 times as fat and ugly as everyone else in the room.

But there IS a way to begin an exercise regimen that you’ll stick to, and I’m living proof of it. I’ve been doing Zumba now for a year and a half; I never thought I’d stick to any exercise plan this long, but I have, because I finally managed to start my regimen off right–with a visit to my family doctor.

Before You Begin: Doctor Visit First!

This is important for everyone who is trying to get back in shape, but especially anyone who has had sprains, twists, or any other major bodily injury. It’s physically dangerous to just start an exercise routine without proper medical advice.

One reason I say that: I see all these infomercials on TV for “hardcore” and “quick” exercise regimens (the Insanity workout regimen comes to mind). These infomercials make you believe that all you have to do is work out extra hard to see results in record time.

Unfortunately, your body doesn’t adapt to such a huge lifestyle change that quickly; I would like to point out that most of the people giving testimonials for these “quick exercise” plans didn’t have that much weight to lose in the first place, and they never mention being perpetually sick or injured before starting the plans. If I had tried going from laying in bed to doing incredibly strenuous exercise, I would have probably ended up in the hospital, simply because my fitness level was somewhere around -50.

My worry with this kind of “get-fit-NOW!” mentality is that people who are trying to get fit will try to do too much, just as I did, and end up hurting themselves worse–which will begin a vicious cycle of starting exercise, getting injured, quitting, and then trying another exercise routine.

Get A Physical, and See What Your Fitness Level Really Is

Before you start doing any kind of exercise, you need to have a complete physical if possible, so that you and your doctor both know about any current health problems you’re having. In my case, before I started Zumba, I had exertional asthma, a family history of heart problems and high blood pressure, and several old injuries to my knees and ankles.

My doctor told me before I began Zumba that I would need to avoid the hops and jumps that were part of the dance routines, because the high impact of my larger weight landing on my injured joints could do more harm than good. Plus, I would need to be aware of my heart rate and breathing during exercise; he warned me that because I was overweight, had not exercised much in the last few years, and had the family history of heart problems and high blood pressure, I would likely have some difficulties with the cardio part of any exercise program at first. “If you feel any kind of discomfort with your heart rate or breathing, don’t be ashamed to back off a few moments to rebalance,” he said. “Your heart and lungs will not be used to all the activity at first, so you have to give them time to adapt.”

Fast-forward to a year and a half later, and I am SO glad he told me that. Though I did have to stop and rest 3 times during my first Zumba class, I was not as freaked out by my rapid heart rate as I would have been if I had not seen my doctor first. Because I sought proper medical advice, I knew that my crazily elevated heart rate was not my heart threatening to bust out of my chest, and so I didn’t quit the exercise entirely; I just rested about 20-30 seconds and then started moving again. And, after a couple of months, I didn’t have to stop during Zumba class at all–my heart and lungs DID adapt to the increased activity.

Following his advice about avoiding injury to my knees and ankles has also helped greatly. Not only have I kept myself from further injury, but I’ve noticed that my knee muscles seem to be getting stronger, and the joints don’t hurt quite so much. I don’t know whether I can completely reverse the damage that was done, but at least something is feeling better in there!

Similarly, before you begin your own exercise routine, check with your doctor to see what kind of exercises and how much intensity you can handle, and whether there are any specific moves you need to avoid. This will make your workout experience a lot less painful, and you’ll be more likely to stick to it. The key to beginning an exercise routine you can maintain is to do what you can and push yourself little by little at first. (At least, that’s been my experience.)

Next Week: Gear Up Appropriately

You can’t just go to the gym in any old clothes; you must be dressed for battle. No, I’m not talking fashion statements here–I mean clothes and shoes that work with your body so that you don’t end up overheated and in severe pain. Want to know more? Tune in next Tuesday!

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