“Before beginning any fitness program, see your physician for a thorough physical examination. Seek advice from your physician to learn the target heart rate appropriate for your fitness level... If you feel pain, shortness of breath, faintness or dizziness stop exercising immediately.”
Where last did you see this sign?
Think about it, it will come to you…
Yes! On every piece of fitness equipment you either own or have used at your local gym.
Next question: do you ever pay attention to it? Probably not.
Many of us think that these warnings are there for compliance reasons and to protect the manufacturer from lawsuits should someone injure themselves while using the equipment. And, you wouldn’t be completely wrong if you think so. But, in reality, these warnings are still also present for your safety and, whether you’re a newbie or an oldie in the workout world, it’s important you pay attention to ensure your safety.
The health warnings on fitness equipment
Besides the fact that you could get shot out the back of the treadmill if you aren’t attached to the safety cord, and end up bruising more than just your ego, there are some real health hazards you need to pay attention to when you’re using gym equipment1.
When you’re putting your body under a lot of stress and strain, you’re more susceptible to the occurrence of a medical emergency2. Think about that last part of the warning above: if you feel pain, shortness of breath, faintness or dizziness, stop exercising immediately.
It may seem counterintuitive that you’re at risk of a health emergency while performing a health-promoting activity… But, being in the gym is painful. No pain, no gain, right?
And, surely, it’s normal to be short of breath when you’re running on the treadmill? Of course it is. What about feeling faint or dizzy? This too is quite a normal response when you’re pushing hard during weight lifting, or giving it an extra bit of gas on the stationary bike.
It’s when these sensations aren’t ‘normal’ that you should worry. It’s important to be able to tell the difference, even when you’re a hardened gym-goer with years of experience.
Working out safely, every time
Increasing your physical fitness is important for overall health and wellbeing, but so is doing it as safely as possible.
Those of you with chronic health conditions should be the ones paying particular attention to the warning labels on exercise equipment. While going for a brisk walk or taking part in a light to moderate exercise routine may be fine for most individuals, jumping into a strenuous workout and ramping up your heart rate may, indeed, warrant a trip to your healthcare provider for a checkup - especially for those with ongoing conditions3,4.
Let’s get educated on some of the risks below.
High blood pressure? Taking part in an intense and rigorous type of exercise routine without correctly warming up could cause your blood pressure to increase to dangerously high levels. Even athletes can report very high blood pressure levels at peak exercise. Watch out!5.
Normal blood pressure? When a room is too hot or you have not had sufficient fluid intake during the day, it could also affect your blood pressure and your abilities6. It’s why drinking small sips of water throughout an exercise is often recommended even if you don’t feel thirsty as a means to moderate your body fluid balance during the stress of the workout.
Diabetic? Working out without taking your blood sugar into account may cause sudden and severe blood sugar lows, which may cause dizziness and fainting.
Non-diabetic? For healthy individuals who have not correctly fuelled for the workout they plan to take part in, blood sugar lows may present a problem, too7.
Asthma? There are a variety of factors inside your gym that could trigger mild symptoms of asthma. These symptoms may not be an issue in daily life - but, upon increasing the load on your breathing during exercise, asthmatic symptoms may become exacerbated. Dust, chlorine from the pool, or even cleaning chemicals in the vicinity could pose a threat, and should be a reason you check in with how you feel prior to and during your routine8.
Not asthmatic? During exercise, it is normal for breathing to be laboured, however you should still be able to talk in broken sentences when the intensity increases. If not, something is off, or you could be pushing too hard.
Although emergencies are unlikely, it’s essential to be prepared so that, if one does come up, you can handle it properly.
With large moving and automated parts that make up fitness equipment, it is essential you familiarise yourself with the safety aspects, such as how to activate and shut off equipment correctly, how to move to and from the equipment safely, and how to prevent general injuries from occurring should you become unwell during a workout.
If you are not sure of these factors, consult the safety manual for equipment set up in your home, or speak to one of the staff members at the local gym for assistance. Remember, it’s not only your current levels of fitness or health history that determines your ability to exercise safely, but also the technique used to perform the exercise.
Both your health and fitness levels will suffer if you injure yourself of become ill - but, taking the necessary precautions and adhering to seemingly obvious warning signs can help to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of your workout9.
- Peterson, J. 10 Common-Sense Safety Tips for Exercise Enthusiasts. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2009. 13(2):46.
- Ost, M., et al. Regulation of myokine expression: Role of exercise and cellular stress. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. 2016. 98:78-89.
- Riebe, D., et al. Updating ACSM's Recommendations for Exercise Preparticipation Health Screening. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2015.
- National Institute on Aging at NIH. How to Stay Safe During Exercise and Physical Activity.
- Caselli, S., et al. High blood pressure response to exercise predicts future development of hypertension in young athletes. European Heart Journal. 2019. 40(1):62-68.
- Trangmar, S., & Gonzalez-Alonso, J. New Insights Into the Impact of Dehydration on Blood Flow and Metabolism During Exercise. 2017. 45(3):146-153.
- McArdle, M. Sports and Exercise Nutrition. Fifth Edition. 2018.
- Tan, R., & Spector, S. Asthma and Exercise. Prog Respir Res. 2002. 32:205-216.
- Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. Healthbeat. 10 tips for exercising safely.