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When individuals take the leap from a sedentary lifestyle to one that is more physically active, it can be an extremely satisfying personal accomplishment, and one that I highly recommend. However, if you've been relatively inactive, there are some important questions to ask yourself before you begin.

Most importantly, is there a family history of heart disease? Even if you haven't been diagnosed, if someone in your immediate family suffers from angina, high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, you could be at a higher risk for complications both during exercise and at rest.

Discuss your exercise plans with your physician and have a complete physical. Your doctor will determine if a stress test is advisable. Be aware of the primary risk factors of heart disease: family history, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, inactivity and obesity.

Once your doctor gives you the green light to exercise, keep the following tips in mind:

Don't exercise when you are ill with a viral infection or cold.

Wait at least two hours after eating before exercising vigorously.

Adjust the intensity and duration of your workout according to the weather.

Stop if you feel discomfort in the upper body, including the chest, arm, neck or jaw.

Always warm up and cool down.

The following exercise is a great way to increase your flexibility during a cool-down. In addition to working non-stop throughout the day, your calf muscles are used in virtually every workout.

Holding onto a chair, wall, counter top or other stable surface, reach your left leg back into a lunge. Make sure both knees and toes point directly forward. Gently press your heel toward the floor until you feel a mild stretch up the back of your calf.

Hold this position for at least 15 to 20 seconds, breathing naturally. Switch legs and repeat with the right leg. Continue alternating for up to three or four repetitions on each leg.

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