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Is it Safe For You to Exercise?

Exercise for Seniors

"Too old" and "too frail" are not, in and of themselves, reasons to prohibit physical activity. In fact, there aren't very many health reasons to keep older adults from becoming more active.

Talking to your doctor

Most older people think they need their doctor's approval to start exercising. That's a good idea for some people. Your doctor can talk to you not only about whether it's all right for you to exercise but also about what can be gained from exercise.

Chronic Diseases: Not Necessarily a Barrier

Prescription Pills Chronic diseases can't be cured, but usually they can be controlled with medications and other treatments throughout a person's life. They are common among older adults, and include diabetes, cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure), and arthritis, among many others.

Traditionally, exercise has been discouraged in people with certain chronic conditions. But researchers have found that exercise can actually improve some chronic conditions in most older people, as long as it's done when the condition is under control.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is an example of a serious chronic condition common in older adults. In people with CHF, the heart can't empty its load of blood with each beat, resulting in a backup of fluid throughout the body, including the lungs. Disturbances in heart rhythm also are common in CHF. Older adults are hospitalized more often for this disease than for any other.

No one is sure why, but muscles tend to waste away badly in people with CHF, leaving them weak, sometimes to the point that they can't perform everyday tasks. No medicine has a direct muscle strengthening effect in people with CHF, but muscle building exercises (lifting weights, for example) can help them improve muscle strength.

Having a chronic disease like CHF probably doesn't mean you can't exercise. But it does mean that keeping in touch with your doctor is important if you do exercise. For example, some studies suggest that endurance exercises, like brisk walking, may improve how well the heart and lungs work in people with CHF, but only in people who are in a stable phase of the disease. People with CHF, like those with most chronic diseases, have periods when their disease gets better, then worse, then better again, off and on. The same endurance exercises that might help people in a stable phase of CHF could be very harmful to people who are in an unstable phase; that is, when they have fluid in their lungs or an irregular heart rhythm.

If you have a chronic condition, you need to know how you can tell whether your disease is stable; that is, when exercise would be OK for you and when it wouldn't.

Chances are good that, if you have a chronic disease, you see a doctor regularly (if you don't, you should, for many reasons). Talk with your doctor about symptoms that mean trouble - a flare-up, or what doctors call an acute phase or exacerbation of your disease. If you have CHF, you know by now that the acute phase of this disease should be taken very, very seriously. You should not exercise when warning symptoms of the acute phase of CHF, or any other chronic disease, appear. It could be dangerous.

But you and your doctor also should discuss how you feel when you are free of those symptoms - in other words, stable; under control.

Diabetes Dilemna

Diabetes is another chronic condition common among older people. Too much sugar in the blood is a hallmark of diabetes. It can cause damage throughout the body. Exercise can help your body "use up" some of the damaging sugar.

If you do have diabetes and it has caused changes in your body - cardiovascular disease, eye disease, or changes in your nervous system, for example - check with your doctor to find out what exercises will help you and whether you should avoid certain activities. If you take insulin or a pill that helps lower your blood sugar, your doctor might need to adjust your dose so that your blood sugar doesn't get too low.

If you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50, check with your doctor first if you plan to start doing vigorous, as opposed to moderate, physical activities. Vigorous activity could be a problem for people who have "hidden" heart disease - that is, people who have heart disease but don't know it because they don't have any symptoms. (If an activity makes you breathe hard and sweat hard you can consider it vigorous for you).

Have You Had a Heart Attack?

If you have had a heart attack recently, your doctor or cardiac rehabilitation therapist should have given you specific exercises to do. Research has shown that exercises done as part of a cardiac rehabilitation program can improve fitness and even reduce your risk of dying. If you didn't get instructions, call your doctor to discuss exercise before you begin increasing your physical activity.

For some conditions, vigorous exercise is dangerous and should not be done, even in the absence of symptoms. Be sure to check with your physician before beginning any kind of exercise program if you have:

Abdominal aortic aneurysm, a weakness in the wall of the heart's major outgoing artery (unless it has been surgically repaired or is so small that your doctor tells you that you can exercise vigorously); or, critical aortic stenosis, a narrowing of one of the valves of the heart.

Questions that need answers You have already read about precautions you should take if you have a chronic condition. Other circumstances require caution, too.

Check With a Doctor If You Have:

  • chest pain
  • irregular, rapid, or fluttery heart beat
  • severe shortness of breath
  • significant, ongoing weight loss that hasn't been diagnosed
  • infections, such as pneumonia, accompanied by fever
  • fever, which can cause dehydration and a rapid heart beat
  • acute deep-vein thrombosis (blood clot)
  • a hernia that is causing symptoms
  • foot or ankle sores that won't heal
  • joint swelling
  • persistent pain or a problem walking after you have fallen
  • certain eye conditions, such as bleeding in the retina or detached retina.
  • Before you exercise after a cataract or lens implant, or after laser treatment or other eye surgery, check with your physician.

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Disclaimer: The material on this Web site is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or fitness professional. Please consult with your physician before beginning any fitness program or fat or weight reduction program. FitnessandFreebies.com takes no responsibility for individual results, or any claim made by a third party.