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Start Gradually
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
Monday, January 07, 2008

When you start an exercise program it's very important; if you haven't done much exercise recently, to get into it gradually. There are lots of stories about people who got into trouble because they pushed too hard, too soon. Most of the people I know who are totally against jogging have some story they like to tell about George or Mary, who was out jogging and dropped dead. And they tell me, "See what I mean? Jogging isn't good for you. And that's why I don't jog, and don't intend to."

Yes, it does sometimes happen—but it usually happens to people who haven't been exercising for a very long time and who have gone out suddenly, in a not very farsighted way, and tried to exercise a lot. Perhaps they just recently gave up smoking--or haven't quit yet. Perhaps they're overweight or have been under a lot of stress. Usually their diet is poor. But they get the foolish, macho notion that they're going to go out and set everything straight in a hurry. "I'm going to go out, and get my health act together and really run hard. I'll show 'em.”

People can get so competitive about how much they're going to exercise that they raise the level of adrenaline in the blood and irritate the heart. And if they then push real hard while they're exercising, the heart may not be able to get enough oxygen. The heart rhythm can become abnormal, and they can die quite suddenly. That's why I want you to take a very gradual, steady approach to this whole thing—and if you have some of the heart risks I mentioned above, go see your doctor, get a treadmill test and an exercise prescription, and take care of yourself. I want you to be able to read the rest of this book!

Particularly when you are starting out, you want your exercise period to be a pleasant, fun time. You don't want to push too hard. The length of time you exercise is far more important than the intensity of the exercise. You don't want to get exhausted, and you don't want to get discouraged.

I’ve listened to Dr. Ken Cooper, the man who wrote all those books on aerobics, give a lecture describing their program down in Dallas, Texas. Thousands of people have run three or four miles every day at his center or wherever they live around the USA and are kept track of on his big computer. He’s had few cardiac problems in his program since he first opened in 1970! But then he insists that all of his patients be stress tested and get a personalized exercise prescription. So exercise needn't be dangerous—and won't be, if you're reasonably careful.

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