Are UAE residents exposing themselves to health risks?

When the research study first came out touting that exercise could be bad for your health and overall fitness, the majority of the medical community sat back and laughed.

But the humour soon began to wane when more and more researchers gave the remarkable findings their nods, albeit grudgingly.

Living in an era where obesity and other health-related diseases are on the rise, exercise has been considered a necessity to get people out of their sedentary lives and to simply get moving.

Unfortunately, this tip to take a few steps forward towards a healthier lifestyle can often result in a giant leap backwards, resulting in more health problems in the long run — especially if your body isn’t ready for a gruelling schedule.

So how does one decide if they are fit enough to start a fitness regime? Emirates 24|7 takes a look at some common scenarios that should give you pause before jumping on that treadmill with unchecked zeal. 

When the heart hurts

Over 25 per cent of deaths in the UAE are caused by cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol levels are a major cause of heart disease, according to cardiology experts.

In fact, heart disease last year became the number one cause of death in the UAE, which was revealed by Dr Omar K Hallak, board member, Emirates Cardiac Society and Consultant Interventional Cardiologist/Chief Intervention Cardiology department, American Hospital in Dubai.

A stressful lifestyle and unhealthy eating patterns are two of the main causes for this. And while a good workout has always been considered ideal for reducing the bad cholesterol in the body, experts now say that a strenuous exercise regime can actually put an even greater strain on the heart.

According to the Mayo Clinic, US, it is vital to keep a heart rate monitor for those fitness freaks who suffer from this medical condition.

You need to watch out for signs if your heart is straining too much; a good indicator is if your resting heart rate is 10 beats a minute over the normal rate. If such is the condition, then the workout should be halted immediately to bring the heart rate down to normal.

While it is very important to consult a physician before signing up for a fitness programme, a good indicator is the laundry-test.

Climb a flight of stairs with a basket of laundry in your arms. If your body can take the strain without you collapsing in a heap, then you should be in decent shape.

When you’re pregnant

Exercise, especially during the first trimester, is considered very healthy and does wonders to boost the mood, improves sleep, and reduces pregnancy aches and pains.

It also prepares you for childbirth by strengthening muscles and building endurance, and makes it much easier to get back in shape after your baby’s born.

But, it can also bring with it a host of problems if not done right.

Running, especially during the third trimester, is considered a health risk for the baby. Pregnancy’s also not the time to start training for a marathon.

Says Julie Tupler, a registered nurse, certified personal trainer, and founder of Maternal Fitness, a fitness programme for pregnant women and new moms in New York City: “The first trimester is when the baby’s major organs are forming, and overheating’s a real issue. If a woman’s core temperature gets too high, it could cause problems with the baby, so why risk it?”

In fact, if you are facing blood pressure problems during your pregnancy, most experts advise you to simply put up your feet and rest, after all this is the time you can pamper yourself.

When it’s the morning after

Let’s face it; the weekends in Dubai are filled with party revelers who like to let their hair down every five days or so and indulge in a bit of merry-making.

But when drinking excessively and working out the morning after, you can end up dehydrating yourself.

Says fitness expert Roger Tula: “After a night of drinking, your body is already plenty dehydrated. The last thing one should do is dehydrate it more by indulging in a hard-core sweat-infused workout.

“Also, with alcohol coursing through your veins, your coordination is usually shot to pieces, and fooling around with weights can prove only harmful towards yourself in the long run.”

When you have a physical injury

This is a simple rule of thumb; if you have hurt yourself in any way and the injury is still causing you immense pain, unless a doctor has advised therapy, do not exercise.

The pain is your body’s way of telling you that it is still not physically capable of handling the stress.

If you seriously need to workout despite sound advice, then concentrate only on the areas of your body where the injury does not exist; if you have hurt your leg, then perform an upper body workout involving holding weights, or if you have hurt your upper body then a lower body programme like a leg-press is apt.

But if at any time you feel that the stress is getting too much for you, or the pain from your injury has increased, then you should stop immediately.

When you have severe shortness of breath

We’ve all heard the line: ‘There is nothing like sport to improve your breathing!’ But research studies now also says that such thinking couldn’t be more wrong.

A broad-ranging survey conducted in Norway among 1,600 top athletes by the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education showed just how widespread the damage of intensive exercising has been.

No less than one athlete in 10 — regardless of the type of sport — suffers from asthma and/or wheezing. Now imagine if you are already suffering from this problem and its reprecussions.

If your chest feel constricted or you are finding it difficult to breathe, stop your workout immediately and consult a physician. Most times, this can be an indication of a viral illness that could simply get worse if you stress your body too much.

Take things slow for a few days, or at least until you have your breath back before resuming your exercise.

When it’s time for your monthly cycle

When it’s that time of month, things are already hanging by a taut string, with mood swings, hormonal changes, stomach cramps and backaches, among the many other symptoms rising to the surface.

While a light workout could ease the pain, rigorous physical activity could actually elevate it to levels that could leave your body feeling the worse for wear.

Leigh Crews, a spokeswoman for the America Council on Exercise, cautions that getting physical while you’re menstruating isn’t always a great idea. “If you’re having period agony, you’re not going to be paying attention to what you’re doing — and that could set you up for injury,” she says.

If you want to do something during a crampy period, stick to a mild pursuit; stay away from activities that require lots of attention to form, such as a step class, and go for a stroll or a leisurely bike ride instead.

When you have a fever

If your body temperature is above 99.5 F degrees, then this is the point where you put those dumbbells down and head back to your bed.

Working out when you have a fever can cause your body temperature to rise even higher, potentially leading to heatstroke, according to sports-medicine specialist Lewis G. Maharam, MD, author of “The Exercise High: How to Get It, How to Keep It”.

A fever simply indicates that your body is fighting a virus and hard-core exercising could cause the virus to invade the heart muscle or pericardium, the sac around the heart.

Also, when your body temperature is above normal, fluids are diminished by five to 10 per cent, thus increasing the risk of dehydration and subsequent complications connected to the original illness.

Therefore, always drink plenty of fluids and also, do not attempt to cut back on food when you have a fever and can’t exercise. The presence of a fever requires more calories, not less.

When you have a hacking cough

It’s not a pretty thought, but you could be pretty sick if you are coughing stuff up.

This is a sign your respiratory system is under attack and probably now is not a good time to indulge in deep-breathing workout that could place more strain on your lungs.

A sore throat could be just that, or it could be a sign of bacterial strep infection. Since vigorous exercise can reduce immunity, the strep infection could spread to a larger area of the throat and respiratory tract.

If you have a persistent or hacking cough or if you’re coughing up mucus, your breathing and lung capacity may be diminished. This indicates you may have an infection in your airways, and exercise should be avoided.

When your illness seems to be letting up, work back into your exercise routine slowly. Before you even head back to the gym, allow three to four days of rest after a bad cold and at least a week or so after the flu.

When you binge exercise

You know who you are, the person who skipped workout over the last few months, thanks to the holidays and the New Year, and is now trying to make up for it by doubling the effort today at the gym.

Binge-exercising can provide nothing but discomfort and pain for the person who is practicing this, and medical and fitness officials say that it often results in more injuries, burnout and plain discomfort when you sacrifice short, moderate workouts frequently for one power intense session once or twice a week.

“You had much rather not workout at all,” says Dr Mehmet Oz, a surgeon at Columbia University and co-author of “You: The Owner’s Manual, in an interview with CNN”.

Experts note that overzealous exercisers can run their way to stress fractures, spin their way to insomnia or even overdo it to the point their immune systems are compromised.

The danger is real for both, athletes and middle-agers that are trying to work off the holiday weight. The problem is that the line defining when exercise becomes risky is a blurry one.

Dr Oz says, “The real sweet spot, as you would expect there to be in any biologic system, is around an hour a day. After that, it’s hard to show a great benefit.”

So if you have worked out your share of the week, stop what you’re doing and take a day off from the gym.

When you are depressed

If waves of depression are bringing you down and interfering with your everyday functioning, then it’s time to get off that Stairmaster immediately.

Physical sports and exercising require mental activity and precise movements, and if you have neither, says John Kent, a rock climbing instructor and personal trainer based in Seattle, US, then you risk getting hurt in the process or worse.

He advises, “Take a break from demanding sports such as surfing, rock climbing, skiing and kayaking and practice soothing ones such as walking, lap swimming, gardening or bicycling.”

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