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Workouts and Your Body

Before we get to the nitty-gritty of working out, let's step back and assess the status of your current health and fitness. While we agree that this isn't an overly exciting topic, it is important. The good news is that very few medical conditions should prevent you from working out.

Once we've established what you need to know before you start, we'll help you figure out what your exercise options are, how to measure your current level of fitness, and how your body responds to working out. Equally important, we'll tell you how it responds when you miss workouts.

What's Up, Doc?
Clearly if you're a member of the U.S. Olympic team, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or under the legal drinking age, you can start a new exercise program without a physical. However, if you've been inactive for a while, recently ill, or have a specific medical issue, it's a very good idea to see a physician for a checkup. Re-member, even if you do have a health problem, there are plenty of exercise options available; however, a little knowledge will give you more confidence as well as make your workouts safer and more productive.

Now let's take a look at some of the most common medical conditions that need to be addressed.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects about 50 million Americans. For most people with mild to moderate hypertension, exercise is one of the most effective treatments. And though many doctors won't rush to tell you this, a regular exercise program can help you decrease or entirely eliminate medication. Here's why. When you do aerobic exercise your blood vessels dilate – and remain dilated even after you stop. That causes your blood pressure (BP) to decrease. (One of the most common categories of BP medications is vasodilators, so as we said, exercise could have the same effect as medication.) While it's generally safe for people with hypertension to lift weights, it's especially important not to lift real heavy weights. When you "max out," you tend to hold your breath. This is known as the Valsalva maneuver to us physio types, and it's quite dangerous for anyone with high blood pressure.

Diabetes is a condition in which an insufficient amount of insulin (the hormone necessary for the metabolism of blood sugar/blood glucose) is produced by the body. Under normal conditions insulin is released to counteract the increased blood sugar that comes after a meal. If you have type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, the body typically doesn't release enough insulin. Those with Type II, or adult onset diabetes, tend to be resistant to insulin, which means insulin doesn't do what it supposed to.

Because exercise has an "insulin-like" effect, your doctor needs to know if you are diabetic and beginning an exercise program. This is important because your doctor may adjust the timing of your medications. And, in the case of insulin, change where you make your injections. (Injecting an exercising muscle is likely to increase the rate of absorption.)

There is a host of do's and don'ts that diabetics need to become familiar with:

  1. Weight loss and modifications in your diet can play a large role for people with adult onset diabetes.
  2. If you have adult onset diabetes, it's important – no matter how busy your day becomes – that you don't let too much time pass between meals. (Skipping meals is a real no-no.) In order to stabilize your blood sugar, it's important that your carbohydrate intake as well as the timing of your meals remain consistent. Again, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist for more info.
  3. It sounds odd, but diabetics are advised to wear good socks and sneakers and carefully check their feet for cuts or blisters because of a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. As a result, diabetics occasionally have decreased sensation in their feet and can therefore be unaware of damage.
Many of us think of asthmatics as woefully frail sickly people who double over when they run up a flight of stairs. Well, consider Olympic gold medallist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a heptathlete who is arguably the greatest female athlete of our time. Our poster boy for dealing with this tough condition, Jonathan Cane, has done 150 bicycle races over the past five years and, for the record, has raced up the stairs of the Empire State Building four times. In other words, asthma does not need to prevent you from working out. Asthma medications have come a long way in the past few years, and most are very effective and free of side effects. (Although it's quite possible that one of the lesser-known side effects is an irrational need to sprint up stairwells in skyscrapers. If this happens more than once, please have your doctor adjust your medication.)

As Jonathan has learned firsthand, asthma sufferers may want to avoid exercising in cold and dry conditions. If you're working out and find that the cold air is bothering you, often breathing through your nose helps filter and warm the air before it hits your lungs.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Short Workouts © 2001 by Deidre Johnson-Cane, Jonathan Cane, and Joe Glickman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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