You want to avoid common mistakes if you are starting an exercise program and are not used to being active. It is important to consider certain guidelines.

One of the most common mistakes is buying into the myth that in order to get great results, exercise must be extreme. The truth is after long periods of inactivity, the body needs time to adapt to greater demands.

To get a better idea of your current level of fitness, some questions to ask:

• Can I perform routine daily chores and activities without feeling unusually fatigued, stiff and sore?

• Can I climb a few flights of stairs without becoming winded or experiencing significant fatigue in my legs?

• Am I able to carry on a conversation during moderate-intensity activities, such as taking a brisk walk or jogging at a slow pace?

• Am I able to exercise without experiencing pain or discomfort in the joints?

• Am I able to keep up with others my own age?

If the answer to the questions above is no, it is best to consult your physician before starting an exercise program. Having a checkup will allow the doctor to give you guidelines that will keep you safe as you become more physically fit.

How important is it to see a doctor before starting an exercise program? If any of these apply to you, ask your physician for his or her advice:

• You have a heart condition or have had a stroke, or have experienced chest pain or discomfort within the last month.

• You have existing joint, bone or muscle problems.

• A doctor has ever recommended only medically supervised physical activity.

• You are or think you might be pregnant.

• You are 40 or older (35 or older if you are obese or unaccustomed to exercise).

• You have any other type of medical condition not mentioned above that may require special attention (for example, insulin-dependent diabetes, asthma).

Once cleared to exercise, do your best to incorporate all three components of fitness. Maintaining a balance between cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, strength (weight lifting) and flexibility training (stretching) gives you total body conditioning and increased health benefits.

— Marjie Gilliam is a personal trainer and fitness consultant.