It can’t be stated enough, especially as the U. S. continues to struggle with an obesity epidemic: The benefits of regular exercise, involving both aerobics and strength-training routines, have long been established as helping prevent chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. And mounting studies are finding that regular exercise and weight management can help prevent many cancers.
But starting a regular exercise program can be challenging for many. Primary care physicians are on the front lines of healthcare when it comes to guiding patients into an exercise program, making sure any underlying health issues are under control.
Jason Perry, M. D. , primary care sports medicine physician with Baptist Wellness Orthopedic Care , is in an unique position with an expertise that applies to physically active individuals. But he emphasizes that many of his patients are not active, and need to be guided and motivated to start exercise routines.
“You would think because I’m part of an orthopedics or sports medication practice, that everybody is an athlete, ” said Dr . Perry. “But the majority of the patients we see are probably on the less-active scale, or maybe they’re trying to start doing some activity and they haven’t done it in a while — and they run into an issue or a problem. ”
About 50 percent to 60 percent of Dr . Perry’s patients have chronic joint issues such as arthritis, and most are not active.
“A big part of the treatment is a discussion on how to reduce their pain with regular exercise, ” explains Dr . Perry. “That’s where I oftentimes use physical therapy as a way to show patients that they can include it in their regular busy life. And they just have to sort of prioritize plus make some time to do it. I think that’s a good way to get it started. ”
Here’s more from Dr . Perry on the importance of exercising. The questions and answers came from his input during a recent Facebook LIVE: Speak Up About Your Health: #MensHealthMonth . Dr . Perry’s guidance on exercising, however , applies to both men and women.
Question : What are some of the physical and mental health benefits of exercising?
Dr . Perry : Exercise has been shown to be very helpful with mental health and reducing the risk of each depression and anxiety. Regular exercise can help improve our sleep, improve our balance, prevent falls, fractures by improving our bone density. And it’s been shown to help with brain health and memory. There are so many benefits. One that I see commonly is reducing pain in joints among patients that have arthritis. As a healthcare provider, we know that we can’t force our patients to be active and we can’t get everybody to be active the way we want. But regularly at each visit, we should be assessing our patients’ physical activity levels, assessing their willingness to be active — if they aren’t already active. And then from there, we really need to help our patients set some goals and those goals have to be realistic and then provide them with real-life ways to meet those goals. ”
Question: Are there warning signs that a patient should get checked to avoid injury before starting to exercise?
Doctor Perry : “There are definitely things that you should see your main care doctor or cardiologist before you get started in an exercise program. Certainly, people who haven’t exercised in a long time, or if they have any type of chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness at rest or along with light levels of activity, should be evaluated by a physician before engaging in a program. Those with a history of heart disease or arrhythmias (irregular heart beat) or kidney disease, should just discuss this with their primary care providers or their specialists for some guidance on what they can and can’t do. ”
Question : What about patients who start working out and hurt themselves? What can patients do to avoid getting hurt?
Dr . Perry : “Obviously there are risks involved with being an dynamic person — injuries plus joint related issues. And I always say to my individuals that the benefits of exercising outweigh the risks of exercising. And if we run into an issue, we can address it. Certainly, having joint pain with weightbearing, limping or swelling in a joint — these would be things that we would encourage people to come in before they continue exercising for evaluation, rather than waiting and trying to push through the pain. It’s very individualized when it comes to these programs and what someone should or shouldn’t be doing. A lot of it has to do with what problems they have at their baseline. Plus it’s hard to give a blanket statement for everybody. You should talk about it with your provider. And that’s where the exercise prescriptions come in — having a conversation with your patients about things they can do and stuff that maybe they should be avoiding. ”
Dr . Perry adds that individuals should talk to their doctor before they start a workout program if any of the following apply:
- You have heart disease.
- You have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
- You have kidney disease.
You might have arthritis.
- You’re being treated for cancer, or you’ve recently completed cancer treatment.
- You have high blood pressure.
If you haven’t exercised regularly inside a while, you may generally start exercising at a light-to-moderate level without seeing your doctor and gradually increase your activity, says Dr . Perry.
You should also check with your doctor if you have symptoms that may be related to heart, lung or even other serious disease such as:
- Pain or discomfort in your chest, neck, jaw or arms at rest or during physical activity.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting with exercise or even exertion.
- Shortness of breath with mild exertion, at rest, or when lying down or going to bed.
- Ankle swelling, especially at night.
- A rapid or pronounced heartbeat.
- A heart murmur that your physician has previously diagnosed.
- Lower leg pain when you walk, which goes away with rest.