Fitness: Getting and Staying Active

Topic Overview

What is fitness?

Fitness means being able to perform physical activity. It also means having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. Getting more fit, even a little bit, can improve your health.

You don't have to be an athlete to be fit. Athletes reach a very high level of fitness. And people who take brisk half-hour walks every day reach a good level of fitness. Even people who can't do that much can work toward some level of fitness that helps them feel better and have more energy.

This topic focuses on health-related fitness, which helps you feel your best and lowers your risk for certain diseases. Making small changes in your daily lifestyle helps you improve your fitness.

What are the benefits of fitness?

Fitness helps you feel better and have more energy for work and leisure time. You'll feel more able to do things like playing with your kids, gardening, dancing, or biking. Children and teens who are fit may have more energy and better focus at school.

When you stay active and fit, you burn more calories, even when you're at rest. Being fit lets you do more physical activity. And it lets you exercise harder without as much work. It can also help you manage your weight.

Improving your fitness is good for your heart, lungs, bones, and joints. And it lowers your risk for heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. If you already have one or more of these problems, getting more fit may help you control other health problems and make you feel better.

Being more fit also can help you to sleep better, handle stress better, and keep your mind sharp.

How much physical activity do you need for health-related fitness?

Experts say your goal should be one of these:

  • Do some sort of moderate aerobic activity, like brisk walking, for at least 2½ hours each week. You can spread out these 150 minutes any way you like. For example, you could:
    • Take two 11-minute walks every day, or a single 22-minute walk every day.
    • Take a half-hour walk 3 days a week, and on the other 4 days take a 15-minute walk.
    • Take a 45-minute walk every other day.
  • Or do more vigorous activities, like running, for at least 1¼ hours a week. This activity makes you breathe harder and have a much faster heartbeat than when you are resting. Again, you can spread out these 75 minutes any way you like. For example, you could:
    • Run for 25 minutes 3 times a week.
    • Run for 15 minutes 5 times a week.

Children need more activity. Encourage your child (ages 6 to 17) to do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.

One way to know how hard you should exercise is to find your target heart rate. Being active within the range of your target heart rate not only helps you keep your heart and lungs healthy but also helps you get or stay fit. As a guideline, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?

Here’s another way you can tell if an activity or exercise is making you work hard enough to count as moderate activity. If you can't talk while you do it, you're working too hard. You're at the right level if you can talk but not sing during the activity.

What types of physical activity improve fitness?

The activities you choose depend on which kind of fitness you want to improve. There are three different kinds of fitness:

  • Aerobic fitness means increasing how well your body uses oxygen. This depends on the condition of your heart, lungs, and muscles. Any activity that makes your heart beat faster, such as walking or running, can improve aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is sometimes called "cardio." "Cardio" is short for "cardiovascular training," which is any exercise—including jogging, cycling, or swimming—that makes your heart work harder for a while.
  • Muscle fitness means building stronger muscles and increasing how long you can use them (called endurance). Activities like weight lifting and push-ups can improve your muscular fitness.
  • Flexibility is the ability to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion. Stretching is an exercise that helps you to be more flexible.

How can you be more physically active?

Moderate physical activity is safe for most people. But it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before becoming more active, especially if you haven't been very active or have health problems.

If you're ready to add more physical activity to your life, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make physical activity part of your regular day, just like brushing your teeth or going to work.
    • Use the stairs more often.
    • Walk to do errands near home.
    • Bike to work at least once a week.
  • Start walking. Walking is a great fitness activity. To keep up a routine, you can walk with family members, friends, coworkers, or pets. Keeping track of your steps with a step counter or pedometer can help motivate you to walk more.
  • Schedule your activity for times that you're likely to keep doing it. If you don't have time for one 30-minute walk, break it up into three 10-minute walks.
  • Find a partner. This can make exercising more fun.
  • Consider joining a health club if that will help you make activity a part of your routine. Or visit a community center that offers fitness activities.
  • Find an activity that you enjoy, and stay with it. Vary it with other activities so you don't get bored.
  • Use the Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn? to find out how many calories you burn during exercise and daily activities.
  • Set small, realistic goals to improve your fitness. Write them down. Reward yourself each time you reach a goal.
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One Woman's Story:

Kris, 56

“I knew I needed to do something. I felt like all my muscles were starting to atrophy. Now I feel like I'm so much more toned. I'm not buff, but I'm toned. I can definitely feel the difference.”—Kris

Read more about Kris and how she has worked physical activity into her life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about fitness:

Getting fit:

Staying fit:

Why Should You Be More Active?

No matter what your size or shape, being active:

  • Makes you feel better.
  • Helps you fall asleep and sleep well.
  • Gives you more energy.
  • Helps you think better and faster.
  • Helps you handle stress.
  • Makes you healthier.
  • Helps you live longer.

Your heart will thank you

The more active you are, the better your heart works. You're less likely to get many of the diseases that can shorten your life, including:

If you already have any of these problems, staying active may help you to have better control over them, feel better, and live longer.

Your body will thank you

Being fit includes keeping your muscles, bones, and joints as active and healthy as possible.

Lifting weights—even small ones—is a good way to make your muscles stronger. It also increases bone density, which is especially important for older adults.1

Stretching will help you stay flexible and coordinated. As you become more flexible, you will find it easier to reach things on high shelves, to look under a bed, or perhaps to tie your shoes. You will also have a better sense of balance and coordination.

Your bathroom scale will thank you

Being more active burns calories. That can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.

When you exercise regularly, your body burns more calories even when you're resting. Being active may also lower your percentage of body fat and increase muscle strength and tone.

To find out how many calories you burn during different activities, use this Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn?.

Picture of an older man

One Man's Story:

Bob, 79

"My doctor said, 'It’s about time you lose weight.' That's when I got my bike."—Bob

Read more about Bob and how he became more active.

You'll thank yourself

The best thing about being active and fit is a better quality of life. You're able to do things you enjoy for longer periods of time, like playing with children, gardening, dancing, or walking.

Children, pregnant women, and older adults can also benefit from being fit.

Check with your doctor

Moderate activity is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before becoming more active.

If you are at risk for or have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other chronic conditions, your doctor may want to help you build an exercise plan(What is a PDF document?) matched to your needs. He or she may want to do tests before you start a plan. Or he or she may want you to be more careful and watch for injuries or other problems.

What Does "Being Active" Really Mean?

Being active means allowing your body to "practice" breathing, stretching, and lifting. The more practice your body gets, the better it works.

Think about doing things in three areas:

  • Aerobic activity, like walking, riding a bike, or swimming. This helps your heart, lungs, and muscle tone.
  • Muscle strength and endurance, like resistance training. This helps build strong bones and muscles.
  • Stretching, for flexibility and balance. Do all stretches gradually. Don't push or bounce the stretch. You should feel a stretch, not pain.

Aerobic activity

Aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs work harder and builds up your endurance. It gets more oxygen to your muscles, which allows your muscles to work longer.

Regular aerobic activity lowers your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. It helps you stay at a healthy weight. It can help you deal with stress and sleep better.

To get and stay healthy, experts say to do either of these:2

  • Moderate aerobic activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or shooting baskets. You notice your heart beating faster with this kind of activity.
  • Vigorous aerobic activity for at least 1¼ hours a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, cross-country skiing, or playing a basketball game. You breathe harder and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

You can choose to do one or both types of activity. And it's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Do what works best for you. For example, you could do moderate activity twice a week for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes at a time. Or you could do 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a week.

Moderate exercise is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before becoming more active.

How hard to work

Here's an easy way to know if you're working hard enough to get the health benefits of moderate-level activity:

  • If you can't talk and do your activity at the same time, you are exercising too hard.
  • If you can sing while you do your activity, you may not be working hard enough.
  • If you can talk but can't sing while you do your activity, you are doing fine.

One way to know how hard you should exercise is to find your target heart rate. Being active within the range of your target heart rate not only helps you keep your heart and lungs healthy but also helps you get or stay fit. As a guideline, use the Interactive Tool: What Is Your Target Heart Rate?

If you have a health problem that keeps you from being as active as experts recommend, aerobic activity can still help you be healthier. Talk to your doctor about what activities you can do.

Click here to view an Actionset. Fitness: Adding more activity to your life

Stronger muscles

Making your muscles stronger is an important part of overall health. When your muscles are strong, you can carry heavy grocery bags more easily, pick up children without feeling as much strain, or do more downhill ski runs before you get too tired and have to stop.

Stronger muscles:

  • Make your bones stronger.
  • Increase your overall stability and balance.
  • Lower your blood sugar.
  • Lower your body fat.
  • Lower your stress.
  • Increase the number of calories you burn.
  • Help you avoid body aches and tiredness.

Experts advise people to do exercises to strengthen muscles at least 2 times a week.3 Examples include weight training or stair climbing on 2 or more days that are not in a row.

Resistance training

Muscles get stronger when they are used regularly, but especially when they have to work against something. This is called "resistance."

For example, you use your arm muscles when you bend your arm at the elbow. But when you do the same movement with something heavy in your hand, your arm muscles are working against more resistance.

"Resistance training" means making your muscles stronger by exercising with things like weights or rubber tubing. It also includes certain exercises, like push-ups, that use your own body weight as resistance.

For best results, use a resistance that makes your muscles tired after 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise.

Strengthening your core

One part of muscle fitness is strengthening the muscles of your trunk. This is called core stability.

Having a strong core is good for everyone, from older people to top professional athletes. It can help you have better posture and balance, and help protect you from injury.

Click here to view an Actionset. Fitness: Increasing core stability

Stretching for flexibility

Flexibility means being able to move your joints and muscles through their full range of motion.

As you become more flexible, you will find it easier to reach things on high shelves, to look under a bed, or perhaps to tie your shoes. You will also have a better sense of balance and coordination.

To stay flexible, stretch all your major groups of muscles. These include the muscles of your arms, your back, your hips, the front and back of your thighs, and your calves.

  • Try to stretch for 10 to 12 minutes a day.
  • Do some stretches first thing in the morning, take a stretch break instead of a coffee break, or stretch in the office for a few minutes.
  • Get involved in activities that include stretching, such as dance, martial arts (aikido or karate), tai chi, or yoga.

When you exercise, you repeatedly shorten your muscles. To counter this effect, you need to stretch slowly and regularly, which makes you more flexible. Combining it with other fitness activities is best.

As you get started with flexibility and stretching, begin slowly, and increase your efforts bit by bit. You can measure your progress with flexibility by noticing how much farther you can do each stretch. Can you stretch farther each day than you could when you started? If so, your flexibility is getting better.

Do your stretching and flexibility exercises in addition to your aerobic and strength-building exercises.

Becoming More Active

Are you ready?

Before you increase your activity, take a look at where you are now. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is physical activity safe for me? For some people, some forms of physical activity might be unsafe or should only be started after a talk with a doctor. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor before you start any exercise or fitness program. He or she may want to help you build an exercise plan(What is a PDF document?) matched to your needs.
  • What challenges get in my way? You may have barriers in your life that get in the way of becoming more active. These may be a lack of time, having no one to exercise with, or fear of getting hurt.

Sometimes doctors automatically schedule routine heart tests because they think that's what patients expect. But experts say that routine heart tests can be a waste of time and money. For more information, see Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them?

Changing your thinking

If you need to make some lifestyle changes to become more active, you'll have more success if you first change the way you think about certain things:

  • Don't compare yourself to others. Healthy bodies come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. One person's choice of activity won't be right for another person. Some people use fitness to become Olympic champions, while others use it to feel as good as possible.
  • Think positive. You can help yourself succeed just by thinking that you can succeed. If you tell yourself negative things—"I can't do this. Why bother?"—change will be harder. But if you encourage yourself with thoughts like "I can do this," you can raise your odds of success. For more information, see:
    Positive Thinking With Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Positive thinking: Stopping unwanted thoughts.

Changing your habits

Making any kind of change in the way you live your daily life is like being on a path. The path leads to success. Here are the first steps on that path:

  1. Have your own reason for making a change. If you do it because someone else wants you to, you're less likely to have success. Know why it's important to you to meet your goals.
  2. Set goals. Include long-term goals as well as short-term goals that you can measure easily.
  3. Think about what might get in your way, and prepare for slip-ups.
  4. Get support from your family, your doctor, your friends—and from yourself.
  5. Measure improvements to your health. For example, keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar. Or see how you can shorten the time it takes to walk a mile.

Learn more about each step:

1. Have your own reasons for making a change

Your reason for wanting to make a lifestyle change is really important. Don't do it just because your spouse or boyfriend or parent wants you to. What makes you want be more active?

  • Do you want to feel better, have more energy, and enjoy life?
  • Do you have a specific health concern (bone and muscle strength, heart health, mood, or something else)?
  • Do you want to feel better about how you look?
  • Do you have another reason for wanting to do this?

It’s not easy to make changes. But taking the time to really think about what will motivate or inspire you will help you reach your goals.

Picture of a smiling man

One Man's Story:

John, 54

"My mantra is 'Find a way to exercise.' It has made all the difference in my life."—John

Read more about John and how he became more active.

2. Set goals you can reach

Ask yourself if you feel ready to start taking steps toward big goals. If you're not ready yet, try to pick a date when you will start making small changes. Any healthy change—no matter how small—is a good start.

When you are clear about your reasons for wanting to make a change, it’s time to set your goals:

  • Long-term goals: These are large goals that you want to reach in 6 to 12 months. Let’s say that you want to meet the recommendation of doing moderate activity, like brisk walking, for at least 2½ hours a week.
  • Short-term goals: But you may not be ready for 2½ hours a week just yet. What are the short-term goals that will help you get there? In this case, your first small goal might be to walk for just 10 minutes every other day. After a week, you can set a new goal by adding a few minutes to your walk or adding another day to your schedule.
  • Updated goals: It will help you stay motivated if you track your progress and update your goals as you move forward.
Picture of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Kris, 56

"Every time you make that goal, you do a little bit better, or you stretch a little bit farther. It makes you feel pretty good about yourself."—Kris

Read more about Kris and how she became more active.

3. Measure how your health has improved

  • Before you start, ask your doctor to check your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and maybe your blood sugar. Have them checked again 3 to 6 months after you start increasing your activity.
    • Cholesterol and triglyceride levels can tell you if your new activities are lowering your risk for heart disease.
    • Blood pressure can tell you if your activity level is lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke.
    • If you have diabetes, blood sugar levels can tell you if your new activity levels are helping to control your diabetes.
  • Look for changes in your fitness level. For example, can you walk longer and on more days than when you started? Can you climb a flight of stairs without getting as tired or out of breath? Can you lift a heavier weight? Do you have more energy?
  • Keep a record of what you do. Circle the days on a calendar when you get a little extra physical activity. If you want a clearer record, use a notebook to write down your activity every day, including informal things like walking an extra block to work or playing a game of soccer in the yard with your kids. Now and then, read entries from months ago to see your progress.

4. Prepare for slip-ups

It’s perfectly normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.

What are the things that might cause a setback for you? If you have tried to become more active before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.

By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.

Barriers to getting active

"I'm too busy."

"I rarely leave my house."

"I don't have the money to join a gym or buy equipment."

"It's too cold, or too hot."

"I might be too tired."

"I'm too old. I'm too out of shape. I'll look silly. I don't like to exercise."

Use a personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your barriers and backup plans.

5. Get support

The more support you have for making a lifestyle change, the easier it is to make that change.

  • Get a partner. It’s motivating to know that someone is going through the same thing you are and maybe is counting on you to help him or her succeed. That person can also remind you how far you've come.
  • Get friends and family involved. They can exercise with you or encourage you by saying how they admire you. Don't be afraid to tell family and friends that their encouragement makes a big difference to you.
    Quick Tips: Getting Active as a Family
  • Join a class or workout group. People in these groups often have some of the same barriers you have. They can give you support when you don't feel like staying with your plan. They can boost your morale when you need a lift.
  • Give yourself pats on the back. When you feel like giving up, don't waste energy feeling bad about yourself. Remember your reason for wanting to change, think about the progress you've made, and give yourself a pep talk and a pat on the back.

You can use this personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to organize your support system.

Staying Active

Turning physical activity into a habit

Most people don't think about being active or inactive as a habit. But it is. And habits are affected by many things, including our work schedule, our home life, and our social life. When something becomes a habit, we don't think about it much—we just do it, like brushing our teeth.

And when something becomes a habit, it can be hard to change. That's what makes changing unhealthy habits into healthy ones so hard. Starting new, healthy habits takes practice and patience. But you can do it if you take one small step at a time.

Experts say that it takes about 3 months of repetition to form a habit. For some people, even 3 months isn't enough. So start small, and keep doing it until you no longer think about it as something "extra" that you have to do. When you slip up, don't get mad at yourself or feel guilty. Figure out what happened and how to keep it from happening again. Get right back into your physical activity routine, and don't look back.

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Maintaining the lifestyle

Many of the good things about being active, such as having more energy and being in a better mood, happen soon after you become more active. But some of the most important health benefits have to do with being active over many years. If you stop being active, you lose the fitness you achieved. Being consistent makes the most sense for your health.

To help make physical activity a long-term commitment:

  • Set goals. Develop and follow a specific program.
  • Make it a habit. Turn physical activity into a normal, pleasant, and routine part of your life.
  • Get the support of friends and family.
  • Expand your fitness activities through coaching, competition, and cross-training.
  • Add variety to your fitness program. Change the place, activity, and time.
  • Don't let reasons such as lack of time or bad weather slow you down.
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Click here to view an Actionset. Fitness: Staying active when you have young children
Click here to view an Actionset. Stress management: Managing your time
Quick Tips: Having Enough Energy to Stay Active
Quick Tips: Fitting Physical Activity Into Your Day
Quick Tips: Staying Active in Cold Weather
Quick Tips: Staying Active in Hot Weather

Establishing a routine

When you have decided that you want to get fit, you will want to plan a physical activity routine. Although most people think of classes and specific activities (such as jogging or tennis) as the way to fitness, there are many ways you can work physical activity into your life.

Click here to view an Actionset. Fitness: Adding more activity to your life
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One Woman's Story:

Shellie, 39

"I realized that I had put myself on the back burner for too long and it was time for me to make time for myself, even if it was just a few minutes a day. I wrote myself a note and taped it to my bathroom mirror. It said, 'I will take a 10-minute walk during my morning coffee break every day this week.'" —Shellie

Read more about Shellie and how she became more active.

Structured fitness

Fitness classes or groups provide a consistent approach to an activity. Local gyms, schools, and churches may sponsor a regular fitness group. Teams also provide a consistent approach to fitness but are more competitive. Many communities have physical activity programs to help adults and children get fit. They often are found within social agencies and schools.

Structured fitness has the advantage of:

  • Being held at the same time and place, which may be easier for some people to schedule.
  • Having a social atmosphere.
  • Providing support and "healthy" peer pressure to show up and participate.

Self-directed fitness

Many people find an activity they enjoy, and then they create their own fitness program. Self-directed fitness gives you:

  • Flexibility as to the time and place.
  • The ability to try different types of exercises.

For this to be effective, you must set up a regular schedule and stay with it.

Fitness within your day

You can use "everyday" activities for fitness, as long as you do them regularly. This includes:

Prepare for slip-ups

It’s perfectly normal to try to change a habit, go along fine for a while, and then have a setback. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.

What are the things that might cause a setback for you? If you have tried to make changes in your activity level before, think about what helped you and what got in your way.

By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.

Here’s one person’s list of barriers to taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day, along with some possible solutions:

Overcoming barriers



"I might be too busy."

  • My backup plan will be to break my usual 30-minute walk into two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks.
  • I will promise to meet my friend or neighbor every day for a walk.

"I might get bored."

  • I'll listen to music or podcasts while I walk.
  • I'll get my neighbor to walk with me.

"It might rain."

  • I'll buy a good rain jacket.
  • My backup plan will be to use an exercise DVD or a treadmill in front of my TV when the weather’s bad.

Use a personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your barriers and backup plans.

Picture of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Kris, 56

"I just have to talk myself into it and just say, 'You know how much better you feel when you go. Just get up and go!'"—Kris

Read more about Kris and how she became more active.

Physical Activity As You Get Older

It's never too late to start getting active. Being fit is important for everyone. You can benefit from physical activity even if you think of yourself as "elderly" or you already have conditions such as arthritis or heart disease. Being more active will help you feel better and may even help you live longer.

If you haven't been active for a long time, you may have no idea where to start. The important thing is to take that first step—and make that first step a small one. For more information, see Becoming More Active.

Be smart about exercise

  • Talk to your doctor before you start a fitness program. You may have health problems that limit what you can do.
  • Don't overdo it! If it hurts, stop. Some minor soreness or stiffness is to be expected at first, but pain is a warning sign to stop.
  • If you have been inactive for years, start with about 5 to 10 minutes of activity at a time, and increase your time as you get more comfortable with the activity.
  • Try to improve only a little bit at a time. Pick one area for improvement first. Set your personal goal in that area, and meet the goal before trying another area.

Being active can make life better

Many people become less active as they age, but staying active—or getting active, if you aren't already—has definite benefits.

  • Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and gives you more energy to do the things you like to do. It can also increase the amount of sleep you get at night and may reduce the time it takes for you to fall asleep.
  • Strengthening exercises can help you maintain your muscle, strengthen bones, and protect knees and other joints. These exercises include resistance training, such as lifting weights, and weight-bearing exercise like walking, jogging, or dancing.
  • Flexibility and stretching, which help provide a full range of motion for muscles and joints, can help you function at home, at work, and socially. Everyday tasks that are hard for you—such as tying shoelaces or reaching to a shelf—may become easier. When you stay flexible, you also keep a more natural walking pattern and decrease your chance of falling. Most flexibility that seems to be lost through aging is caused not by aging but by inactivity or lack of movement.
  • Balance exercises help you have good posture. They can also be helpful to improve coordination and reduce your risk for falls. One type of balance exercise is to stand on one leg for 10 seconds. Stand on a flat surface and use a stable object (such as a heavy chair) for support. Yoga classes or DVDs can teach you poses that help improve your balance.

Being active can keep you healthy

Exercise also has these specific health benefits for older adults. It:4, 5

Physical activity doesn't have to be strenuous. Older adults can gain great health benefits with a moderate amount of physical activity. This can be done in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as walking) or in shorter sessions of more vigorous activities (such as fast walking or stair-walking).

Caution signs for older adults

When you exercise, it's normal to have some minor muscle and joint soreness. But other signs may point to something more serious. Stop exercising if:

  • You have pain in your chest or upper belly that may spread to your neck, jaw, upper back, shoulder, and arms. Call 911 right away if this happens. Chest pain can be a signal of a heart attack.
  • You are panting or are very short of breath.
  • You feel sick to your stomach.
  • You have pain, joint discomfort, or muscle cramps that won't go away.

Preventing Injury and Illness

Physical activity is good for your health, but you can hurt yourself if you don't do it right. Always keep safety in mind.

  • Learn about the risks of any new activity you begin. Take lessons if you need to.
  • Wear clothing that is right for your activity. Wear shoes that have good support for your feet.
  • Always use the safety gear that goes with your chosen activity, like helmets and knee pads. Learn about the proper fit of that gear.
  • Start an activity session routine slowly. Then work up to your normal level.
  • Pay attention to pain and tiredness. They are your body's way of telling you to slow down. Muscle soreness is common when you try a new activity, but pain can mean you're injured. If you are very tired, you may be doing too much too soon.
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Watch out for these injuries and illnesses as you exercise:

  • Overuse injuries —like tennis elbow, for example—can happen to anyone who overuses certain joints or muscles. Doing too much too soon, doing intense exercise, not varying your routine, or playing sports can lead to overuse injuries. Not using the proper form for the activity or wearing poorly fitting shoes can also cause injury.
  • Dehydration . You can lose too much water through sweating if you don't replace it by drinking fluids as you exercise. Follow these guidelines to avoid dehydration when you exercise.
  • Heat exhaustion , heatstroke, or dehydration may be caused by exercising in heat and humidity.
    Quick Tips: Staying Active in Hot Weather
  • Overhydration during exercise is unusual, but it is a medical emergency when it happens. You can become overhydrated from drinking too much fluid. This is rare, but it can happen to people who do strenuous exercise for a long time, such as long-distance runners. Symptoms include:
    • Feeling bloated (your watchband may feel tight).
    • Feeling sick to your stomach.
    • Feeling confused.
  • Exercise-induced asthma can occur even if you don't have asthma at any other time.
  • Overtraining is rare, but it can make you tired and grouchy, as well as raising your risk for injury and illness.
  • Heart attack is rare, but be aware of the symptoms.

Other Places To Get Help


America on the Move: University of Colorado
4200 East 9th Avenue
Suite C263
Denver, CO  80262
Phone: 1-800-807-0077
Web Address:

America On the Move offers free, personalized online resources, interactive tools, community support, and events. This program helps you build eating and activity habits that positively affect your weight and health. Its guidelines include walking an additional 2,000 steps each day and decreasing daily caloric intake by 100 calories.

American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX  75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address:

Call the American Heart Association (AHA) to find your nearest local or state AHA group. AHA can provide brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support. AHA's Web site also has information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Physical Activity Topics
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
(404) 639-3311
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Web Address:

This Web site has information about physical activity for all ages, including expert guidelines, overcoming barriers to getting and staying active, health benefits, and more.

National Health Information Center:
P.O. Box 1133
Washington, DC  20013-1133
Phone: 1-800-336-4797
(301) 565-4167
Web Address: provides information on physical activity, diet, disease prevention, and making healthy choices.

President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
200 Independence Avenue SW, Department W
Suite 738-H
Washington, DC  20201-0004
Phone: (202) 690-9000
Fax: (202) 690-5211
Web Address:

This Web site has physical activity ideas and tips for all ages. The President's Challenge interactive Web site lets you record your daily activity and track your progress. You can also receive an award when you reach your goal.

Shape Up America!
P.O. Box 15009 Native Dancer Road
North Potomac, MD  20878
Phone: (240) 715-3900
Web Address:

Shape Up America! is a national coalition of industry and medical experts in nutrition and fitness. Its goals are to make Americans more aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and to provide information about how to lose weight and stay fit. The organization has published several booklets on weight loss and diet, which can be ordered from the Web site.



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2004). Strength training among adults aged 65 or older. MMWR, 53(2): 25–28.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online:
  3. Haskell WL, et al. (2007). Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, 116(9): 1081–1093.
  4. Nied RJ, Franklin B (2002). Promoting and prescribing exercise for the elderly. American Family Physician, 65(3): 419–426.
  5. Nelson ME, et al. (2007). Physical activity and public health in older adults: Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, 116(9): 1094–1105.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2006). Increasing cardiorespiratory endurance. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 6th ed., pp. 69–90. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  • Kavey RW, et al. (2003). American Heart Association guidelines for primary prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease beginning in childhood. Circulation, 107(11): 1562–1566.
  • National Institute on Aging (2004). Exercise: A Guide From the National Institute on Aging. Available online:
  • Strong WB, et al. (2005). Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth. Journal of Pediatrics, 146(6): 732–737.
  • Williams MA, et al. (2007). Resistance exercise in individuals with and without cardiovascular disease: 2007 update: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Circulation, 116(5): 572–584.


Author Debby Golonka, MPH
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Heather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science/Weight Management
Last Updated August 26, 2008

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