Assessing Your Health for Walking
Before you start walking, take the time to assess your health. Consult your doctor before you hit the trail or treadmill, especially if you've been inactive in recent years. Too many Americans have a tendency to take their health for granted and allow too much time to elapse between physical examinations.
Unfortunately, life-threatening diseases like high blood pressure and coronary heart disease may not produce symptoms until a good deal of damage is already done. If you are overweight or smoke cigarettes, over 45, or have any significant health problems, your doctor's OK is essential before you begin any exercise program.
The doctor's physical examination should include checking your heart and lungs and taking measurements of your pulse, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol levels. It may also include a resting electrocardiogram, which measures electrical signals from your heart while you are resting.
In some cases, the doctor may decide that you also need an exercise stress test, which is really nothing more than an electrocardiogram that is taken while you are exercising on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Doctors often recommend an exercise stress test to people who have a personal or family history of heart disease, because these individuals may have a higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular problems during exercise.
An exercise stress test is also often recommended for people who are over 45 years old -- particularly if they have been inactive; are obese; smoke cigarettes; have high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, or a high cholesterol level; or have a family history of heart disease. Even if you're under 45, your doctor may give you an exercise test if you have two or more risk factors associated with coronary heart disease or have a history of chest pain.
If you are overweight or have any significant health problem such as arthritis, anemia, lower back pain, foot trouble, diabetes, or a disorder of the heart, lungs, kidney, or liver, you're probably already getting regular medical checkups. Even so, you need to consult your doctor before you begin a walking program to determine if any special precautions need to be considered. For instance, if you have asthma, your doctor may advise you of ways to prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks, especially if you plan to walk outside in cold, dry weather.
If you are obese or have diabetes, your doctor may want you to add nonweight-bearing activities -- like swimming and walking in a pool -- to your walking program. If you have insulin-dependent diabetes, your doctor may advise you of when and where you may need to take your insulin. Your doctor may also advise you to consult an exercise physiologist to work with you one-on-one when you begin your exercise program.
Your age, in itself, shouldn't keep you from exercising. Many of the physiological changes that are assumed to be an inevitable part of aging can actually be linked to inactivity. Regular exercise like walking can actually help you look and feel younger. However, even the most active older people cannot avoid all the changes that occur over time.
For instance, particularly in women, the bones thin with age and become more susceptible to injury. This happens, to some extent, no matter how healthy your diet has been or how much weight-bearing exercise you've done; the bone-thinning process cannot be prevented entirely.
Time also takes its toll on the joints of the body, with the incidence of arthritis climbing in the later years. For these reasons, people over the age of 45 should consult a doctor and have a checkup before starting any new exercise program.
One of the most important aspects to consider before beginning a walking routine is your heart rate. For more information, continue to the next section of this article.
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