Starting a workout program? Have a health screening first.

Physical activity is vital to staying healthy and preventing disease. Its benefits include:

  • Lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Improved weight control
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Improved bone density

If you are overweight or have a pre-existing condition such as hypertension or diabetes, you might assume that you can’t exercise safely. In fact, you can. While strenuous exercise can increase your blood pressure or stress on your joints, the health benefits of a properly designed fitness program far outweigh the potential problems. Thats why its important to have a checkup with your health care provider before starting your regimen.

Tailor your program

True, getting a physical is inconvenient. But during your visit, you and your doctor can discuss the types of exercises best suited to your current state of health and tailor intensity to your fitness level. Together, you can create a plan to ramp up the duration and intensity of your exercise over time for maximum benefit.

What should be checked?

For starters, your health care provider should examine your joints and discuss any aches, pains or signs of arthritis. If you have joint damage, your doctor may suggest biking or swimming, for example, instead of running. You would still get great exercise and spare yourself possible future knee surgery.

Other things to have evaluated:

  • Blood sugar: If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you’ll need to monitor your sugar and adjust your medications as you exercise, or you could end up with low blood sugar
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate and heartbeat
  • Breathing and lung function

Take action to get fit but do it wisely by first getting a checkup and professional advice on the best program for your fitness level, medical conditions and overall goals. Now, get moving!

Do’s and Don’ts

Preparing for your pre-workout physical

Don’t: Procrastinate.The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor before starting a strenuous workout program if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis or heart, lung, liver or kidney disease. Being a former smoker or overweight are other reasons. When in doubt, get that exam. You’ll feel better knowing you’re in the clear.

Do: Bring information. If you have a family history of serious illness, or if you’ve sustained joint or muscle injuries, make sure your doctor knows as much as possible about both.

Don’t: Work out in advance. Exercise can cause muscle inflammation and soreness. Working out right before your exam could lead your doctor to mistake these for a more serious problem.

Do: Be specific about your plans. If you have a workout regimen in mind, such as training to run a 10K, share it with your physician. He or she may offer suggestions or warnings.

Myles Spar, M.D., MPH, is board-certified in internal medicine. He is the medical director at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica, Calif.