The risk of injury is significant when muscles that haven't been exercised recently are stressed with new activities. Even if you exercise regularly, taking on a new activity that uses different sets of muscles carries risk for injury.
In addition, any pre-existing condition, even a minor one, can worsen or create a new problem when stressed. And all of these scenarios pose greater risk for injury with older muscles and joints.
Look at a good physical exam as getting a green light to dive into your New Year's resolution for exercising wholeheartedly.
Who needs a physical?
Most healthy adults do not need to see their physician prior to starting a light to moderate exercise program.
But if you are a male over the age of 45 or a female over the age of 55 and have not received regular, preventive care from a health care professional, seeing a doctor prior to starting your program is strongly recommended.
People with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol who are not participating in regular physical activity should see a physician before starting an exercise program. So should those with poorly-controlled asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as anyone who recently has had surgery or been hospitalized.
If you have new health symptoms that you have not discussed with your physician — dizziness, vision changes, unplanned weight loss, skin ulcers that do not heal, chest pain or pressure, palpitations, difficulty breathing and joint swelling — see a doctor before starting your exercise program.
What to expect
For older patients, a routine exercise physical will have an emphasis on medical history and an examination of the patient's heart and lungs.
It also will focus on preventive health for issues that are more likely to affect this age group, such as osteoporosis screening for post-menopausal women.
If you have diabetes, your doctor might send you to a podiatrist or recommend special shoes to prevent foot injury.
If you have significant heart or lung disease, your primary care physician might recommend you see a specialist.
What to ask your doctor
Are there specific exercises to avoid? For example, if you have osteoarthritis or recently had a surgery, certain exercises might worsen arthritic pain or injury to the surgical site.
What pain control treatments are safe to use after exercise? Some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications should not be used by adults over the age of 65 without regular medical supervision.
Even if you've been given the go-ahead, postpone your routine if you have unexplained symptoms such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath or dizziness until you can discuss these symptoms with a health care professional.
Also postpone exercise if your chronic medical conditions change. For example, if your home diabetes or blood pressure monitoring shows significant change in your glucose or blood pressure values. Your medications might need to be adjusted.