Do you ever notice that when your local health club advertises in your area, the promos always feature these twenty-something male and female models with zero body fat wearing a cosmetic dentist's dream smile?

And naturally, the health club commercials show a facility that is sparkling new without one ounce of sweat on the machines. In fact, no one working out seems to be perspiring at all. Ah, a perfect place for the perfect body.

OK, reality check. Most people do not go to the gym having a perfectly toned body and in tip top shape. They go there to get in better shape and to be healthy. So, unlike the fitness nirvana portrayed in the advertisements, we need to be realistic and use a facility that is practical, safe and well supervised. After all, that monthly fee should go toward safety as well as fitness.

Really, how can we practice kick-boxing while flattening our abs, toning our butts, and changing our lives for the better if we also don't practice safety in our work-out plans? This is especially important because for the approximately 25 percent of Americans over the age of 35, unsupervised exercise without a prior, thorough medical exam may prove to be dangerous.

The Warm-up

A few years ago, the United States Department of Health and Human Services released an initiative called Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. (It has since been updated to Healthy People 2010.)

Part of this plan is to encourage Americans to increase their physical activity, partly because physical inactivity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

However, it is important to know that nearly one-fourth of all Americans age 35 and older have some form of cardiovascular disease, so the recommendation to exercise for those in this age group (especially for people just getting started) should probably include advice to get medical clearance from their healthcare professional prior to beginning an exercise program.

I mention the 35 and older set because this group represents the fastest growing segment of health and fitness club members, while also representing a group where the risk of heart disease begins to increase. (No, don't pack it up and say "I might as well eat chocolate while watching television on the couch, why take a chance on exercise?") The key is to exercise with safety in mind.