Exercise: How to Get Started

Safety First

Start Out Slowly

Most older adults, regardless of age or condition, will do just fine increasing their physical activity to a moderate level. However, if you haven't been active for a long time, it's important to start out at a low level of effort and work your way up slowly.

When to Check with Your Doctor

If you are at high risk for any chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes, or if you smoke or are obese, you should check first with your doctor before becoming more physically active.

Other reasons to check with your doctor before you exercise include

  • any new, undiagnosed symptom
  • chest pain
  • irregular, rapid, or fluttery heart beat
  • severe shortness of breath.

Check with your doctor if you have

  • ongoing, significant, and undiagnosed weight loss
  • infections, like pneumonia, accompanied by fever which can cause rapid heart beat and dehydration
  • an acute blood clot
  • a hernia that is causing symptoms such as pain and discomfort.

Check with your doctor if you have

  • foot or ankle sores that won't heal
  • persistent pain or problems walking after a fall -- you might have a fracture and not know it
  • eye conditions such as bleeding in the retina or a detached retina. Also consult your doctor after a cataract removal or lens implant, or after laser treatment or other eye surgery.

Check with your doctor if you have

  • a weakening in the wall of the heart's major outgoing blood vessel called an abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • a narrowing of one of the heart's valves called critical aortic stenosis
  • joint swelling.

If You’ve Had Hip Replacement

If you have had hip repair or replacement,

  • check with your doctor before doing lower-body exercises.
  • don't cross your legs.
  • don't bend your hips farther than a 90-degree angle.
  • avoid locking the joints in your legs into a strained position.

Discuss Your Activity Level

Your activity level is an important topic to discuss with your doctor as part of your ongoing preventive health care. Talk about exercise at least once a year if your health is stable, and more often if your health is getting better or worse over time so that you can adjust your exercise program. Your doctor can help you choose activities that are best for you and reduce any risks.

Tips to Avoid Injury

When you exercise, it is important to do it safely. Follow these tips to avoid injury.

  • When starting an exercise program, begin slowly with low-intensity exercises.
  • Wait at least 2 hours after eating a large meal before doing strenuous exercise.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for your activity and comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that allows you to move freely but won't catch on other objects.
  • Warm up with low-intensity exercises at the beginning of each exercise session.
  • Drink water before, during, and after your exercise session.
  • When exercising outdoors, pay attention to your surroundings -- consider possible traffic hazards, the weather, uneven walking surfaces, and strangers.

When to Stop Exercising

Stop exercising if you

  • have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder, or arm
  • feel dizzy or sick to your stomach
  • break out in a cold sweat
  • have muscle cramps
  • feel severe pain in joints, feet, ankles, or legs.