Why You Should Consult Your Doctor Before Starting an Exercise Program

Doctor and patient

You definitely should talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Depending on your individual medical conditions, medications and overall conditioning, a doctor may advise different levels of activity. A patient’s activities, weight loss and frequency of exercise may affect prescriptions and dosing of medications.

The number one reason to talk to your doctor prior to exercise is the elevated risk of heart attack or cardiac complications for anyone who has not been active in a long time. Other areas of concern include joint care, blood chemistry and internal organ issues (lung and kidney). These ailments may predispose you to heart issues.

Here are just a few of the most common situations that fitness industry instructors will encounter when training clients who are on medications for the most common ailments:

Post-Heart Attack

If you have suffered a heart attack, talk to your doctor before starting any regimented training program. Depending on the severity of the attack, the medications and the doses of those medications, adding any exercise that improves cardiac output may require the doctor to adjust medications or dosage.

There are many activities you may not be able to do when you first start exercising. Typically, it’s good to start with walking or biking, stretching and eating better. However, your doctor may want to get a baseline of health screening numbers before you actually start, with a retest six months later to see whether the numbers are improved or warrant changes to medication dosages.

High Blood Pressure

A client may be prescribed medications such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers after a heart attack or as a preventative treatment. The Mayo Clinic says that “beta blockers are medications that reduce blood pressure. Beta blockers cause the heart to beat more slowly and with less force, which lowers blood pressure. Beta blockers also help widen veins and arteries to improve blood flow.”

“Calcium Channel Blockers lower blood pressure by preventing calcium from entering the cells of your heart and arteries,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Calcium causes the heart and arteries to contract more strongly. This allows blood vessels to relax and open [dilate]. Some calcium channel blockers have the added benefit of slowing your heart rate, which can further lower your blood pressure, relieve chest pain [angina] and control an irregular heartbeat.”

Any improvement of your blood pressure should be monitored carefully as these medications also may need adjustments. Also, you may want to avoid or limit certain types of exercise and movements if blood pressure is an issue. You want to avoid the possibility of elevating blood pressure during heavy lifting or sprinting.

High Cholesterol

Statins are the most common drug prescribed to lower cholesterol levels. As you add exercise to your schedule, you may find that the statin and exercise are the perfect combination to keep your cholesterol lower. However, you will not know this unless you discuss training with your doctor.

Trainers say that many clients have reduced their medication dosage and even gotten off statin drugs altogether after starting a workout plan. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Statins work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. These medications have also been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. These drugs may help stabilize the plaques on blood vessel walls and reduce the risk of certain blood clots.”

High Blood Sugar and Diabetes

High blood sugar and diabetes should be monitored before, during and after exercise. It is dangerous to have blood-sugar levels that are too high or too low before and during physical activity. Exercise will affect blood sugar and insulin levels, so learning how you feel when you have high or low blood sugar is important and comes with practice.

When you have low or high blood-sugar issues or Type I or Type II diabetes, you must communicate with your doctor regularly about perfecting the timing and dosing of your medications, as well as when you eat and exercise. Those details matter as you seek to manage the seesaw of blood-sugar levels.


For men and women with arthritis, motion is lotion. Moving and strengthening the muscles that support major joints is beneficial, but you may want to seek professional medical advice for options that will have less impact on painful joints.

Exercises like walking, stretching, yoga, pilates, swimming, biking, elliptical, rowing and resistance bands are not only easy on the joints but will help strengthen muscles and other soft tissues around the joints.

You will find that it is important to discuss exercise after surgery, serious illness or a condition that leaves you immuno-compromised. Getting advice from medical professionals can save you significant pain and discomfort.

As you start to improve your health and conditioning through exercise and healthy eating, you may feel dizzy or lightheaded because you are lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol naturally. When you also are taking medications for these conditions, having access to your doctor to make those dosing adjustments is a requirement if you want to progress further. If you do not have time for a continuous 30-minute or longer exercise routine, consider breaking it up into two or three 10- to 15-minute segments.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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