Dr. Michael Linder, associate professor of family medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a family sports medicine physician with USA Physicians Group, said starting a fitness program is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, control your weight, boost your mood, and improve your balance and coordination.

When starting an exercise program, Dr. Linder said you should always exercise within your ability. “It’s best to start slow and work your way up to the next level,” he said. “If you haven’t exercised before or you’ve tried an exercise program in the past and haven’t stuck with it, don’t set unrealistic goals. You can’t think that you can start exercising and run a marathon the first day.”

According to Dr. Linder, overuse injuries – such as fractures and sprains – are common with beginning athletes. Thus, it’s important not to go overboard. “Overuse injuries occur when you start too hard or too fast,” he said. “Take it slow so you can enjoy the exercise.”

Dr. Linder said the recommendation for exercise is 30 minutes of moderate activity – or any activity that gets your heart rate up – every day of the week.

Often, finding time to exercise can be a challenge. Dr. Linder suggests that patients design exercise into their day. “Anybody can do this,” he said. “Use the stairs at work, walk around the building on your lunch break, and walk to your mailbox at home. It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes at once. Small bouts add up throughout the day.”

One of the best ways to stick with a fitness program, Dr. Linder said, is to exercise with a friend or family member. “It keeps you going and keeps you motivated.”

Dr. Linder also recommends choosing an exercise you enjoy or incorporating something that will distract you during exercise. “I use an elliptical and put a TV in front of it,” he said. “If you enjoy it, you are more likely to continue exercising and not give up.”

Most importantly, Dr. Linder said you should always use common sense when it comes to exercise:

• Pay attention to weather conditions - if the weather is extreme, modify your exercise
• Drink plenty of fluids - make sure you are well hydrated before, during, and after exercise
• Know the signs of heat injuries – signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, weakness, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and an increase in body temperature
• Be reasonable - if you can only get out one or two words between breaths, then you are exercising at a high level. If you can get in several words, then you are exercising at a reasonable intensity
• STOP if you have any chest pain

If you have any underlying health conditions, talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. To make an appointment with Dr. Linder, call (251) 434-3475.

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