Is Exercise Hazardous to Your Health?
Q. I just found out that I have high cholesterol. My doctor suggested that I start exercising, so last week I put on my running shoes and hit the pavement. Afterward, I lifted some weights. I know exercise is supposed to make me feel better, but I felt terrible -- my whole body hurt. What did I do wrong?
While I applaud your good intention, I'm not at all surprised that you felt terrible. You broke the first rule of beginning an exercise program -- begin slowly and increase your pace gradually over a period of weeks. Even experienced athletes end up with aches and pains if they overdo it after recovering from an injury or illness that put them out of action for a while.
The dangers of leaping full force into an exercise program go far beyond aching muscles and fatigue. Results from a recent study, published in the November 10th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, show just how hazardous sudden physical exertion can be for sedentary people at risk of heart disease (from high cholesterol or other physical problems). Of the 640 patients participating in the study, 64 had exertion-related heart attacks within an hour of vigorous activity, such as running, jogging, weight lifting, or a mixture of aerobics and weight lifting. The researchers concluded that the relative risk of suffering a heart attack was ten times greater during vigorous exertion than at other times. The vast majority of those affected were admitted couch potatoes.
The moral of this study: If you are trying to reduce your heart attack risk, start exercising at an easy pace while you're making other lifestyle changes (quit smoking, change your diet) before you rev up your activity level.
And try to follow these recommendations for safe, painless exercise:
Work up to your goal gradually and at your own pace, particularly if you are new to exercise.
Aim for continuous aerobic activity for 30 minutes a day, on average, five days a week.
Look for other ways to increase your daily activity, such as using stairs more often, parking farther from your destination, and doing more physical work yourself instead of delegating it to others.
Don't substitute competitive sports like tennis or racquetball for aerobic activities. The aerobic work in these sports may be too stop-and-go to tone your cardiovascular system.
Always warm up slowly prior to exercise, and always cool down for a few minutes at the end (just slow your pace from, say, a run to a walk). Your muscles will thank you.
Pay attention to your body. Stop exercising and talk to your doctor if you develop any unusual aches or pains.
And finally, soothe sore muscles with a hot bath.