Everyone is probably aware that exercise is a vital component of a healthy life. But with any physical activity there is an inherent risk of injury that may intimidate even those with the best of intentions out of starting a fitness program. All physical activity runs the obvious risks of muscle strain and joint injuries, even walking across the lawn can be hazardous for your ankles! However when you’ve got a complicated medical history, have been inactive for a long period of time, or have family history of some diseases, risk with activity increases somewhat.
One piece of good news is that the association between physical activity and health has been thoroughly researched and continues to be researched today. Exercise professionals are able to use relatively simple and very sensitive questionnaires, such as the commonly utilized Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), to identify individuals for whom a medical evaluation and physician consent is advisable prior to beginning an exercise program.
Additionally, the risk of serious injury or medical complication is very small and the benefit far outweighs the risk for almost every situation. This risk vs benefit as it applies to different activity levels is represented in the graph below. As vigorousness increases the risk is increased slightly, but the benefit is significant. This association continues until a certain point where overtraining can become an issue, however this tip in the risk vs benefit relationship tends to occur in individuals training at very high intensity for extended periods of time.
Figure 1 (Click to View): Risk and benefit relationship as it relates to various levels of physical activity. From van Sluijs, Verhagen, van der Beek, van Poppel, van Mechelon, 2003, Risks of physical activity. In Perspectives on health and exercise, edited by J. McKenna and C. Riddoch (United Kingdom: Palgrage Macmillan), 112. Adapted by Anne Back, BS.
As always, check with your primary care provider before beginning any exercise program. More on the risks of injury with physical activity can be found at:
Howley, E. T., & Thompson, D. L. (2012). Fitness Professional’s Handbook. Champaign, IL.
Lavie, C. J., Milani, R. V., Marks, P., & de Gruiter, H. (2001). Exercise and the heart: Risks, benefits, and recommendations for providing exercise prescriptions. The Ochsner Journal, 207-212.
Powers, S. K., & Howley, E. T. (2012). Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Anne, B.S. Exercise Physiology
Community Hospital Blog Contributor