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Get fit and be smart about it

Exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Many people establish bold fitness goals with a mind toward getting in shape. It's tempting to jump right in, especially when friends or relatives reach their own fitness goals. However, inactive men and women risk injury when diving right in and not taking a gradual approach to fitness and weight loss regimens. To reap the most rewards from exercise, take the proper precautions and follow these guidelines.

· Speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen. Get medical clearance before you begin a new exercise regimen, especially if you have any preexisting medical conditions. Your doctor may suggest certain modifications that can reduce strain on certain parts of the body or advise you on the most effective activities for people with your condition. Healthy individuals may be cleared outright and can begin their fitness regimens immediately. It's also wise to inform doctors of fitness plans and goals so they can help track your progress.

· Don't eat heavy meals before exercising. Avoid large meals before engaging in strenuous physical activity. A light, healthy snack gives you a little fuel without affecting your ability to exercise. After eating, the body diverts blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract to aid with digestion. Exercising while this blood flow is centralized in the gastrointestinal tract may cause muscle cramps or generalized weakness. Nutrition experts at the University of California, Los Angeles, say that people who exercise strenuously on a full stomach also may experience reflux, hiccups, nausea, and vomiting. Wait at least an hour after eating full meals to exercise.

· Warm up. It's important to warm up muscles before beginning a workout. Stretches, light movements and range of motion exercises can improve flexibility and prepare the body for more to come. If muscles aren't fully stretched and warm, injuries like strains and tendon tears may occur. Take the time to warm up; otherwise, you may find yourself on the sidelines.

· Wear the appropriate equipment. Invest in quality athletic shoes and other equipment made for the activity you will be performing. The right equipment can help prevent injury. Athletic shoes that fail to provide adequate support can increase your risk of injury. Good shoes do not have to cost a fortune, as there are plenty of brands that will work quite well. If you need suggestions, discuss your exercise regimen and goals with a podiatrist or orthopedist. Orthotic inserts can be used to modify footwear and provide additional support. You also may need equipment specific to a given activity. For example, wrist supports and quality gloves are essential for kickboxing classes. Speak with a trainer or gym employee if you need assistance.

· Take weather into consideration. Ice, snow, rain, and wind can make jogging or other outdoor activities more challenging, if not dangerous. Always exercise caution when your workout regimen involves exercising outdoors. Stay indoors if you see thunder and lightning.

· Stay hydrated. The Better Health Channel of the Victoria State Government says a person can lose around one and a half liters of fluid for every hour of exercise. Drink water before, during and after each exercise session. If you need water while exercising, take small sips.

· Be aware of your body. Take notice of how you feel. If something doesn't feel just right, then stop immediately, rest and/or seek medical attention.

· Pace yourself and take the time to rest. Don't try to do everything all at once. Slowly build up your durability and stamina by gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts. Give yourself time to recover between workouts as well.

Exercise is a key part of a healthy lifestyle. Remember to do so safely and effectively.

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