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February 2012 | 0 Comments | Print
Family Medicine


University of Cincinnati College of Medicine 


McKay-Dee Hospital Center

Safeguard your heart before you exercise

After years of being a couch potato, you venture to the gym and step on the treadmill, determined to make today the day you get started exercising. But, before you can push START, you’re hit with this WARNING:

‘Before beginning any exercise program, consult with your doctor, particularly if you have been inactive, are very overweight, or have or suspect any sort of medical condition.’

Convinced that this particular treadmill is only for elite athletes, you scan the stair climber, elliptical and stationary bike only to find the same disclaimer displayed on each of them. Do you ignore it or step off the machine and make an appointment with your doctor?

Heed the warning
According to Dr. Amy Mechley, take the advice on the label to heart – literally. “If you’ve been sedentary for awhile or if you have a heart condition or are taking blood pressure or heart medications, your heart may not be properly conditioned for strenuous activity,” she says.

A pre-exercise heart screening will check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar for any warnings. Your body mass index will be measured and from there, an exercise plan can be developed. “Our emphasis is on setting attainable goals,” says Dr. Mechley.

Starting a fitness routine
Her advice is to make sure your fitness routine is practical, beneficial and fun. “Exercise should be enjoyed and never looked at as a chore. It’s the number one thing people can do for their heart and lungs,” says Dr. Mechley, medical director of the Wellness Division with The Christ Hospital. Follow her advice on making your fitness routine a safe success:

  • Work out smarter, not harder. A heart-healthy regimen calls for just 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, so there is no reason to overdo it. Understanding your target heart rate will help you get the most from your cardiovascular exercise without putting unnecessary strain on your heart. You can use your heart rate as a tool to safely keep you in the right training zone (beginner, fat burning or muscle building). Or get a heart rate watch, which can do the same thing without you doing the math.
  • Think outside the gym. “Don’t worry about the gym membership,” Dr. Mechley says. Finding activities you enjoy and can easily do every day will help you create a routine. Test out a new Cincinnati walking or hiking trail, find a workout buddy to keep you motivated or try new fitness trends like Wii Fit or a dance class.
  • Benchmark your progress. You can easily use a pedometer or the calorie counter on the elliptical, but tracking your progress doesn’t end there. “Most importantly, pay attention to how much better you feel, how much weight you’re losing and how your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol improve,” Dr. Mechley adds.

    “I tell people, ‘I can give you a pill for your high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, but if you condition your heart, you’re going have far better outcomes, fewer side effects and feel much better.’”

Talk to your physician before starting an exercise program. To find a Christ Hospital primary care physician near you, call 877-904-4YOU or visit

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