You hear it all the time in workout videos and self-help articles: Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. And we absolutely agree: Follow this advice for the safest possible outcome. After all, your primary care doc knows your medical history, has access to all of your records and tests, and understands your overall health and current activity level. He or she is well positioned to know whether you are ready for an increase in activity.
But how far should you take this advice? Should you schedule an appointment if you’re thinking about changing from machines to free weights? What if you’ve been spending time on the elliptical machine, but are interested in trying water aerobics? Or Zumba?
If it’s been a while since you exercised at all, or if you have other health issues or concerns, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor before increasing your physical activity. But as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) pointed out a few years back, exercise is good for most people. And we do want people to exercise.
According to ACSM’s revised guidelines, most people can exercise without visiting a doctor first, provided they consider their current activity level, signs and symptoms of a few key diseases, and their planned exercise intensity.
If you do not currently exercise regularly—and you have cardiovascular, metabolic, or renal disease (or suggestive symptoms)—you should visit your doctor first to get a medical clearance for regular exercise. Even if you do exercise regularly, a visit to the doctor may still be a good idea.
If you don’t have any of those diseases—or symptoms that suggest you might—the ACSM suggests you can begin light to moderate exercise.
If you have any questions, do contact your doctor. The ACSM website has a thorough explanation of its updated guidelines, as well as a helpful infographic to guide you step by step.