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Guidelines for Safe Exercise

Girl pedaling a stationery exercise bike
  1. Start exercising slowly

    Gradually increase time... then intensity. Don’t push too hard too soon.

  2. Stop exercising if you have any of the following symptoms:

    • Chest, jaw, neck or back pain or pressure
    • Severe shortness of breath
    • Wheezing, coughing or difficulty breathing
    • Nausea
    • Light-headedness, dizziness, fainting
    • Cramps or severe pain or muscle ache
    • Severe, prolonged fatigue or exhaustion after exercise

    Contact your physician if any of the above symptoms persist after stopping exercise.

  3. Warm up and Cool down properly
  4. Use level, soft surfaces

    Look for dirt paths, tracks or level grassy fields. Hard or uneven surfaces such as cement or rough field are more likely to cause foot and joint injuries.

  5. Avoid mixing exercise and food

    Wait at least 2 hours after eating before exercise. And, after exercise, wait about 20 minutes before eating.

  6. Don't exercise if you are extremely tired or don't feel well

    When returning to exercise after an extended illness, start off slowly, building back up gradually.

  7. Take precautions when on the road

    Wear light-colored clothing and/or reflective bands when out in the evening so drivers can see you. Face traffic when walking. Ride with traffic when on a bike. Don't use a walkman in traffic. Use a sun-block to protect against sunburn and skin cancers.

  8. Use only tepid water to bathe or shower after exercising

    Water that is too warm can cause dizziness and/or fainting.

  9. Never exercise in isolated areas alone

    And, when exercising away from home, tell someone where you will be and how long you expect to be gone.

  10. Alternate exercises

    If exercising most of the day, alternate high intensity and lower intensity exercise to avoid overuse injuries and to prevent “over-training” and fatigue.

  11. Drink plenty of water

    The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 2 cups of water 15-20 minutes prior to exercise and 1 cup of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. There is no need to use sport drinks unless exercise lasts in excess of 60-90 minutes.


Recommendations concerning safe exercise are from the cardiopulmonary fitness center at Capital Health System. This Exercise page was contributed by Kathleen B. Williamson, M.S., R.N., C, Coordinator of  Cardiopulmonary Fitness Program at Capital Health System, Trenton, NJ.

Diet and Exercise Log  |  Exercising Safely  |  An Exercise Calendar  |  Strength Training  |  Starting a Walking Program  |  Stretching Exercises  |  Relaxation Exercises  |  Living with Mindfulness  |  Intro to Exercise  |  Yoga

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.