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Eager to Get Fit? See Your Doctor Before Starting to Exercise Says HSS

Dr. Alice Chen of Hospital for Special Surgery.
Dr. Alice Chen of Hospital for Special Surgery. Photo Credit: HSS

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Hospital for Special Surgery's Dr. Alice Chen answers questions on what steps to take when getting back in shape.

Is diet or exercise more important for well-being?

For health maintenance, both diet and exercise are essential. Diet supplies the body with the building blocks for the maintenance of good health. Exercise takes the “raw goods” of good nutrition and builds it into healthy tissue, whether it’s the heart, muscle or mind. Exercise builds muscle mass, which helps regulate the body’s metabolism, and improves circulation and oxygenation. 

What are some tools to help me track my exercise or motivate me?

Goal setting can be very helpful when exercising as it makes any resolution more concrete. Recording progress can be as basic as logging activities with pen and paper. For the tech savvy, there are a myriad of fitness apps that can help track everything from miles run to calories consumed, with cheerleading built into the program. Blogs have become popular for people to connect with others who similarly strive to achieve their exercise goals. Sharing tips and pitfalls with a network of virtual “friends” can make daunting goals more accessible.

How closely should I follow a workout plan? Should I push through if I’m feeling tired or sore?

Whether it is with a trainer or with a physical therapist, if there is a target you’re trying to reach, it is important to report discomfort or pain, especially if it persists through the next workout. Muscle strengthening can cause achiness, but it should not cause outright pain that persists. Working out to a level of fatigue can strengthen the muscle to a certain extent. However, prolonged exercise through fatigue can make one vulnerable to injury because proper posture and technique often fail when you’re tired.

How likely is it that a previous injury may resurface when I start exercising again?

Injuries to bone, muscle, tendons or ligaments heal at different rates and with variable completeness of healing. For instance, tendon injuries are vulnerable to reinjury due to poor blood flow and therefore heal more slowly. Fractures often heal more completely, with less risk to reinjury. It is important to follow your physician’s guidelines on return to activity. If done properly, patients can often return to exercise stronger than they were before they got injured.

If we get an annual physical, what more could “consulting with a physician” really offer?

When people are told to consult with their physician, it is often because the activity requiring “medical clearance” may be more rigorous than some people with certain conditions can handle. Some patients have conditions that do not affect their day-to- day life but may preclude them from more rigorous activity. Checking with a doctor can ensure you're good to go when it comes to exercising.

Dr. Alice Chen, Physiatrist, treats disorders and injuries of the neck, back, muscles, and joints in a minimally invasively manner. She practices at the HSS Outpatient Center in Stamford, CT.