Exercise Safety

purple-weights-ballFor an elite athlete, a weekend warrior, or anyone just starting out on a fitness plan, physical activity does increase the risk of injury. (37) Don’t let that stop you from becoming more active, though. The health benefits of being active far outweigh any risks.

  • Moderate intensity activity is generally very safe for most people, even people who have not previously been active.
  • Muscle, joint, and bone problems are the most common injuries caused by exercise.
  • In hot weather or during long and intense workouts, dehydration can be a concern.
  • In very rare cases, vigorous physical activity may lead to a heart attack or sudden death.
  • Active people have a lower risk of serious or fatal heart problems than inactive people.
  • If you are sedentary, starting with activities that require a light-to-moderate effort, such as walking, and increasing your activity gradually can be a safe way to get moving.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2008 offers these tips for staying safe while being active: (37)

1. Pick activities that match your fitness level.

Choose activities that are moderate in intensity; have less of an impact on your muscles, bones, and joints (for example, walking instead of running); and don’t involve planned contact or collisions with other people or objects (for example, tennis or golf instead of volleyball or hockey). Several popular activities have low injury rates:

  • Walking for exercise
  • Gardening and yard work
  • Bicycling or riding an exercise bike
  • Dancing
  • Swimming

2. Increase activity gradually.

Gradually upping your physical activity over time can help lower your injury risk, regardless of how active you are now. If you’re currently sedentary and looking to add more activity to your day, it’s especially important to “start low and go slow.”

3. Protect yourself.

A few common-sense precautions can help you stay safe:

  • Choose the right equipment: If you’re cycling, wear a bike helmet. If you’re going out for a walk, pull on a well-fitting pair of sneakers instead of a pair of flip flops.
  • Find a safe place to work out: Seek out streets that have sidewalks or bicycle lanes. Play basketball on well-maintained courts.
  • Pay attention to the weather: In the middle of a heat wave, exercise in the morning when it’s cooler out, exercise indoors, or hit the swimming pool instead of the tennis court.

4. Talk to your doctor if you have a chronic condition or if you are pregnant.

Physical activity can help people manage diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and other chronic conditions, as long as the activities they choose match their fitness level and abilities. If you have one of these conditions or another chronic condition, your doctor can help you come up with an activity plan that’s safe for you. Pregnant women should also talk to their health care providers about the safest activity options during pregnancy and after having a baby.


37. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, U.S.D.o.H.a.H. Services, Editor. 2008.