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How can I exercise safely?

Start Slowly and Build Up
Start with a level of exercise that you can manage. This is important for safety reasons. You'll also feel more like sticking with your exercise. Plus, you'll avoid overexerting yourself.

How starting slowly helps you stick with exercise. By starting slowly and building up gradually, you can help avoid injuries. A slow start also lets your body adjust to the demands of increased activity.

By pacing yourself you also achieve some mental benefits. You give yourself the chance to set new goals as you go along and to try new challenges. This can help keep you motivated - no one can accomplish his or her goals all at once. Also, if you push yourself too hard or tell yourself that you're not doing enough, this can make you feel bad and make you want to quit.

So give yourself the gift of starting at a level that you can manage. Doing so makes you more apt to stick with your program and to feel good while you're being active.

How to work up. If you haven't been physically active for a while, you may want to start with 10 to 15 minutes of walking three times a week.

Over time, gradually build your activity level. Do this by increasing your frequency, intensity, and time. Your goal should be to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise 3 to 7 days a week. You may choose to use your target heart rate as a guide for the intensity of your exercise.

Depending on the health of your heart, your doctor may set different goals for you at first. Also, if you're overweight or if you've been inactive for a long period, it may take several months to build up to this level.

What to watch for. Every year, about 5% of heart attacks occur after heavy exertion. Avoid activities that stress your heart and raise your blood pressure. Shoveling snow and lifting heavy objects are two examples of this type of activity. Such activities can cause the arteries supplying blood to your heart muscle to narrow.