Choosing a Safe Gym

Your Health Club Safety Plan

The benefits of safe exercise are a proven fact! Since this is so very important, and because many Americans are joining fitness centers, it is imperative that you choose a facility where safety is a standard practice.

The well-respected medical journal Circulation has published a health checklist for people who want to join a fitness facility, the highlights of which I am going to share with you.

  1. The first and most basic service your prospective health club should offer is a health questionnaire. This should be a brief set of questions which can help determine if you are in one of three categories: apparently healthy, have cardiac risk factors or currently have cardiovascular disease. Based upon this questionnaire, you may be asked to get a medical clearance from your healthcare professional before you hand over that payment.
  2. If you have cardiovascular disease, find out whether personnel at the facility you want to join include exercise specialists, health and fitness instructors, exercise leaders (certified by appropriate agencies, organizations, etc) and possibly nurses.
  3. Find out whether personnel are trained to recommend and supervise exercise for persons with cardiovascular and other chronic diseases (an example is diabetes).
  4. Check to see whether emergency policies and procedures are written out, reviewed, and practiced regularly by the professional staff at the facility. Some real-life examples include whether the staff is trained and proficient in CPR and basic first aid. It would be an added plus if the fitness center had an automatic defibrillator on site (these save lives)!
  5. See if the facility is clean, well-maintained and spacious enough to ensure safety and comfort during exercise.
  6. Make sure indoor facilities are climate controlled.
  7. Look to see if the shower and locker facilities are clean and well-maintained.
  8. Check to ensure that the exercise equipment is clean and working properly.
  9. Determine if the exercise leaders and health and fitness specialists are qualified and able to instruct men and women of various ages and fitness levels.
  10. Many clubs have cardiovascular equipment in areas where there is poor air circulation. Even if the air temperature in the club is in a good range, it is still important to have ceiling fans or other equipment to ensure a good air flow. In this way it will be easier for your body to evaporate perspiration in order to minimize your risk of a heat related illness.

OK everyone, now that we have our fitness checklist, let's get physically fit the old fashioned way: a day at a time with safety in mind. For more information on safe exercise at health and fitness facilities, call the American Heart Association at 1-800-242-8721.

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Copyright 2003, Dr. Rob Danoff

Robert Danoff, D.O., M.S., is a family physician. He is program director of Family Practice Residency Frankford Hospitals, Jefferson Health System, Philadelphia, Pa. He is also a medical correspondent for The Comcast Network, CN8, contributing writer for the New York Times Special Features and writes a weekly medical column for the Bucks Courier Times, Bucks County Pa.