After a friend of a friend collapsed on the treadmill, we got thinking: do you need to be fit to go to the gym?
Q 1. Do I need to be fit to go to the gym?
Fitness writer and consultant Vesna Jacobs puts it well when she says, “Everyone can go to the gym but everyone cannot do the same things.” She adds, “It’s a common story. People forget that their bodies have grown old and think ‘If I could run 7 km when I was 20, I can run 7 km when I am 40.’ People who aren’t aware of their fitness level are most likely to collapse.”
All this simply means that when you start with an exercise plan, start slowly. However, experts say there are certain conditions with which you should not exercise without a doctor’s clearance. “If you have a history of stroke, are asthmatic, have a lung problem or suffer from epilepsy, you must consult a doctor first,” says Jeremy Cheong, Fitness Manager at Fitness First.
Experts also add that having cardiac problems doesn’t mean you cannot exercise. “You can start with a light walk and increase in intensity,” says Vesna.
Q 2. Is it necessary to consult a doctor first?
To avoid problems cropping up later, “people, even youngsters who have never done any exercise, must do a full body check-up. The tests should include blood pressure, ECG and platelet counts, because even younger people can be anaemic without realising it. There could be something hidden that can hinder your performance,” says Vesna.
Jeremy recommends that you subject yourself to a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) test (see box) to assess your suitability to not only start an exercise regime but whether you should go in for a test in the first place. “The questions are very relevant for people who have never exercised before,” says Jeremy.
The PAR-Q test is basic. The next level is a submaximal fitness test (a physical test, not just a Q&A) that determines how strong your heart is and how much you can push it. Says fitness consultant Nisha Varma, “People with no other risk factors (obesity, hypertension, cardiac disease, borderline blood sugar) besides age should take this.” Other physical tests gauge flexibility and muscle strength in your upper and lower body.
Besides ruling out health problems, these tests will allow your trainer to draw up a suitable plan. While planning your schedule, the trainer will also take into account your personal fitness goal.
Q 3. Does age matter?
No. “We have people from 12 to 85. As long as they are fit, they are ready to exercise,” says Jeremy. “You must get medical clearance if you are a woman above 55 and a man above 45,” says Nisha.
Q 4. Are there any warning signs?
Signs to look out for while exercising that signal you must stop immediately include tightness in chest, unusual amount of sweating, sweating without a cause, hyperventilating, locked joints, seeing stars, dizziness and fainting.
In the long term, any pain that lasts over 48 hours, lack of sleep, irritability and disorientation are signs that you are overtraining.
You must listen to your body, says Nisha. “You often have trainers pushing you. But if you feel you have to stop, you must stop.”