Exercise Not Only Healthy, but Safe

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 1, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Those who avoid exercise for fear of dropping a barbell on a toe or tearing a muscle may be a disappointed to find their fear of such mishaps is largely unfounded. In fact, working out at a supervised fitness facility is very safe, according to a new study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Michael A. Morrey, PhD, the study's lead author, tells WebMD. "We wanted to examine and test the issue of how safe is participation [in exercise] in a setting of supervised activity, and we found that the risk is very minimal when we looked at the risk of having a [heart attack] in that setting -- even injury is minimal." Morrey is with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

'Supervised' is a relative term, though, according to Morrey. He says another study "looked at the credentials of staffs in clubs in conventional facilities in Massachusetts, and it was really alarming to find many of [the employees] don't have the qualifications to be in this field." So, consumer be wary when choosing a workout facility. Look for a qualified staff, according to Morrey.

The study looked at over 7,000 people who exercised at the Mayo Clinic's in-house fitness facility, called the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, for two and a half years. The average age of participants was 39, and only 15% of the people involved in the study were over age 50.

Morrey, who is director of the center, tells WebMD that more than two-thirds of the people were engaged in cardiovascular activity, and the rest focused on strength training. Also, "the majority of the people that utilize the facility don't have a college degree, and doctors only make up about 6% of the population," he says.

The medical outcomes were classified in two ways: medically significant events and medical emergencies. The first group referred to any accidents causing cuts or musculoskeletal injuries, or medical episodes like asthma that required further medical assessment. Medical emergencies meant events up to, and including, heart attack, where "cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR] was indicated."


Seventeen medical incidents were reported over the study period, meaning that the amount of injuries was rare. Of the 17 incidents, 15 were classified as "medically significant", and two were "medical emergencies". For comparison's sake, the researchers cite the findings of a different study on youth hockey, which shows risk of injury in that sport to be 600 times greater.

Morrey points out that the facility where the study was done is well-staffed by professionals, and he stresses "the importance of a well-trained staff, appropriate screening mechanisms, and a solid emergency plan in place" when selecting an exercise facility.

Richard Cotton, chief physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, says the medical community recommends evaluation by a doctor before beginning a fitness program for "men over 40, women over 50, or anyone with two or more major cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking or high blood pressure. Cotton says, and Morrey agrees that "they're showing that exercising is pretty safe, and existing methods of assessing risk (in a quality environment) are pretty effective." Cotton recommends to "work with a professional [and] do a basic screening before you get started."

Ultimately, the researchers conclude, in concurrence with other studies, "there is less risk in activity than in continuous inactivity."

The study was funded by the Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center.

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