3 Ways to Be Sure You Exercise Safely

Seven simple ways to improve your health and enhance your quality of life

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (or a combination of the two) per week for heart health.

Getting enough physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health and it’s important to be sure that when you exercise, you’re doing it safely. Before starting any exercise program, heart patients or people with a specific medical question should talk with their doctor about what is safe for them to do.

1. Warm up and cool down

Warm up before you begin your aerobic activity, and cool down afterward. Give your body a chance to limber up by starting your five- to 10-minute warm-up with light or moderate activity. You can also walk slowly or decrease your activity level for five to 10 minutes to cool down.

2. Monitor how hard you exercise

A simple way to do this is to use the Borg Scale (below) to tell if you’re exercising hard enough, but not too hard. The scale helps you rate your level of physical effort from very, very light to very, very hard. You’re exercising at the right level if your ratings are between 11 (light) and 15 (hard).

While doing physical activity, rate your perception of exertion. How heavy and strenuous does the exercise feel to you while you’re doing it? Consider all of your sensations and feelings of physical stress, effort, and fatigue. Do not focus on any one factor such as leg pain or shortness of breath, try to focus on your total feeling of exertion.

A healthy adult might perceive walking at a slow, leisurely pace around a "9" on the Borg scale and very strenuous activity – where they might have to push themselves to continue — around a "17" on the scale. Since this is a scale of how each individual is feeling during a specific activity, you may perceive it differently.

3. Watch for warning signs of too much physical activity

These include:

  • Angina (squeezing, burning, pressure, heaviness or tightness under the breastbone, which may spread to your left arm or shoulder, back, throat or jaw)
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or confused
  • Feeling extremely tired after physical activity
  • Unusual or extreme shortness of breath
  • Fast or uneven heartbeats

If you notice these signs during or after physical activity, stop and call your doctor right away. If you have angina that doesn’t go away immediately when you rest, take nitroglycerin if you have it. If your angina continues for more than five minutes, or if you also have other symptoms such as nausea and sweating, call 911 or your emergency response number. You may be having a heart attack.

If you have pain or cramping in your calves, thighs and buttocks during physical activity that goes away when you rest, you may have peripheral artery disease (PAD). Leg pain from PAD occurs in the muscles, not the joints. If you have any leg pain or discomfort that recurs, be sure to tell your doctor about it.

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