Following an exercise prescription

Mar 23, 2010 at 12:25 p.m. ET

Even before you walk in your doctor’s office, you know the merits of exercise. Yet, whether you have made excuses to not exercise or have had a medical condition that has hindered your efforts, having your doctor give you an exercise prescription, or orders to start some regimen of regular physical activity, can be daunting. Exercise is good for you, will make you feel better, and shouldn’t be something you fear. Here is a simple guide to following your doctor’s orders to get moving.

Woman with personal trainer

Exercise prescription

Perhaps, you've been told by your healthcare professional you need to lose weight and/or start exercising regularly to improve your health, particularly if you have or are at risk for heart disease or diabetes. View this exercise prescription as an opportunity for long-term health.

You know the benefits of regular exercise – improves cardiovascular health, helps control blood sugar, and promotes emotional health, to name just a few – but, if you don't have much of an exercise history, you probably don't know exactly how or where to start.

You may even find exercise all the more intimidating if you have chronic conditions that cause pain, such as fibromyalgia or arthritis, or are coping with post-surgical pain and limitations.

The best way to make exercise a part of your lifestyle – and follow your doctor's recommendation – is to find a qualified exercise therapist or personal trainer who specializes in your condition and a fitness facility that has the equipment you need to improve your health.

Your rights to follow your doctor's orders

You certainly have the right to ignore your exercise prescription, but you'll benefit far more if you embrace the following three "rights" while following your doc's orders.

The three rights for exercise prescription:

  • Right equipment (variety of cardio and strength training machines)
  • Right staff (qualified and certified for your needs)
  • Right preparedness (ability to meet emergency situations) 

1. Right equipment for exercise

You have many options when it comes to choosing a facility for your workouts, giving you the option of evaluating each venue to make sure it can meet your needs. Look in the business section of your phone book for local health clubs and gyms, hospital or rehabilitation centers, and community recreation facilities. Call or visit the available locations to assess the cardiovascular equipment, such as treadmills, ellipticals and bicycles; strength training tools and machines, such as free weights and resistance machines; and the cleanliness and organization of the facility (members and staff cleaning the equipment after use is a big plus). If your doctor has prescribed pool therapy, obviously the facility you choose should have a warm or indoor pool.

2. Right staff with fitness credentials

Before you join a health club or another fitness facility, get more information on the staff. Since you need specialized exercise training, the fitness professionals at a facility are the most important factor in making sure you safely and effectively follow a program, especially if you are unfamiliar with the fitness equipment or don't understand the exercise prescription your doctor has recommended.

The fitness staff should be certified, qualified and knowledgeable about you and your condition. Keep in mind, however, all certifications are not equal; the most widely recognized and stringent certifications require a degree in a exercise science or related health field, and a specified number of hours of work experience that includes designing and implementing programs for different fitness goals and health conditions.

Look for staff certifications through these organizations:

Ask the membership sales staff if you can talk to one or a few of the qualified fitness professionals at the facilities you are considering to make sure there are qualified professionals who can help you make your exercise prescription a successful endeavor.

3. Right preparedness in case of emergency

You don't want to think of the worst, such as you falling off a treadmill, your blood sugar crashing or heart troubles during a workout, but these incidents can happen. It's crucial that the staff, particularly your exercise therapist or fitness trainer, and the facility is prepared for emergencies. Fitness certifications require, at the very least, CPR training and first aid, but ask the membership sales person how the facility is equipped to handle injuries, blood sugar issues, heart attacks, and any other condition that you fear can happen. It is better to be assured you are in safe and capable hands before an accident or health-related event occurs.

Think long-term for your health

Joining a fitness facility to follow your exercise prescription is the first step in improving your health. Working with a qualified fitness professional is your next step in reaching your rehabilitation, weight loss or health goals. However, for long-term success, you need to embrace regular exercise as part of your lifestyle and as an activity that you can do yourself.

Learn as much as you can about your condition and talk to your exercise therapist or personal trainer about how best to exercise safely within the parameters of your condition, so you can eventually work out on your own.

Be proactive

If your healthcare professional hasn't given you an exercise prescription, but you'd like to safely adopt exercise as part of your lifestyle, make an appointment for a physical examination. From there, your doctor can give you a prescription for physical activity based on your health status. Also, if finding the right facility and staff seems a challenging task, simply ask your doc for recommendations.

More on the benefits of exercise