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When Not to Exercise

Are you too sick, tired, or sore to work out -- or are you slacking off?

Don't Rush Your Comeback continued...

It takes a lot of energy to maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness -- and little time to lose it.  “Noticeable decreases in exercise capacity can be seen in as little as two to three weeks,” Rothstein says.

Return to exercise slowly and carefully.

That's what Shannon Hurt, a 32-year-old Atlanta mom, has been doing. An avid walker/runner, Hurt was a week away from participating in a 5k when a test revealed she had an irregular heartbeat and thickening of the heart muscle. Exercise was off-limits until more tests could be completed.

That was several months ago. Now, Hurt has a prescription for heart medication -- and doctor's orders to ease back into her workout regimen.

“The cardiologist said to slowly return to exercising, starting with walking for 20 minutes or so each day and build back up to running,” Hurts says. “He wants me to eventually get back up to 5 days a week at a minimum of 45 minutes of intense cardio.”

Easing Back Into Exercise

Walking is a great way to return to exercise without overtaxing the body, Rice says. Here is his advice for returning to exercise from a break, injury, or illness:

  • If you were away from the gym for less than a week, start at 80%-90% of your original intensity and slowly increase it from there.
  • If your break lasted longer than a week, reduce your intensity to 50%-60% and increase by 10% each week.

“A safe rule is that a 10% per week increase in intensity and duration is safe for everyone. Some people may be able to advance more quickly than others,” Rice tells WebMD.

Many factors should be considered when determining how quickly you can return to exercise after a hiatus. They include the length of your break, your age, and previous fitness level. The more physically fit you were before your break, the more quickly you will likely be able to return to your previous level of activity. If you had a long-term illness, check with your doctor about any exercise limitations.  Never exercise if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness.

Remember, there is a fine line between pushing yourself and pushing yourself too hard.

“More is not always better,” Rothstein says. Moderate exercise can help prevent, control, or improve some chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, or fibromyalgia, but if you have an acute infection, rest is best.

Reviewed on February 16, 2010

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