You hear it again and again: See your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
But new research out of Israel indicates most people should skip this stage and get out on the pavement, to the park, or to the gym as soon as possible.
“Medical screening before initiating regular exercise is often advised but without scientific basis,” Dr. Mayer Brezis of Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Centre in Jerusalem, told Reuters Health.
Routinely screening people before they start exercising is designed to cut down on the rate of sudden deaths due to exercise. But these sudden deaths are extremely rare, says Brezis. Not only that, he says, but medical screening could cause damage. For one thing, it could label healthy people as sick (from false positives) and, for another, medical tests such as electrocardiograms sometimes have side effects. It also delays people from becoming physically active.
Brezis suggests that sedentary people start exercising as soon as possible to improve their health. Being physically active can help prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. Start small and build up to greater amounts. Go to a doctor if you feel dizziness or chest discomfort.
The Israeli study was a “simulation” to find out whether routine screening of people before they exercise decreases deaths. Researchers found it only has that effect in people who are at intermediate or high risk for heart problems, not in people at low risk. Those with known heart disease should definitely undertake to exercise under medical supervision, says Brezis.
The article was published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.