Not without a doctor's note

Been sedentary for longer than you care to admit, but thinking of getting off the couch and getting active? You'll probably want to see your doctor first, just to make sure you won't keel over tying up your cross-trainers.

At least that's what the experts say. Most of us don't listen, though. I didn't — even though I was approaching a certain age when the medical world wants to probe every pore and cavity of your body.

Luckily, my body adapted well to pretty intense exercise and — so far — I haven't been one of those headlines you read after some marathons: "Death race: Old guy with bad heart keels over at finish line."

If you'd like some guidelines on who should see a doctor before taking up an exercise program, the Mayo Clinic has some to consider. The clinic says that if you are a woman over 50, a man over 40, have had a heart attack or a family history of heart disease before age 55, you should see your doctor before beginning an exercise program. If you're a smoker or obese, you should also see your doctor first.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada says it's good to get back into exercise after you've had a heart attack, but not without going over your plans with your doctor.

Eventually, I did get the full physical and came through pretty well. Blood pressure was exactly where the books say it's supposed to be. Resting heart rate a little under 50 beats per minute.

It was comforting.

But I didn't have to do it.

That's not the situation everywhere. My little sister was looking to get active again just after Christmas. Forget jogging or cycling — she's called smoggy, car-crammed Athens home for most of the past 15 years. The city is one of the most dangerous in Europe for pedestrians.

So it was off to the gym with her. Thing is, she wanted to go to one of the facilities run by the municipality of Athens — a public gym. Sure, they said. But not without a note from your doctor.

"Yes, I received my note on Friday from a cardiologist working in the national health system," Marietta wrote. "He did an ECG and provided me with a note, which I took yesterday to the gym, and had my first class. Today I feel slightly moved internally!"

Join a private gym in Athens and you don't need a note. But join a publicly supported facility, and you've got to get an OK from the medical profession. Seems they don’t want you keeling over on their treadmills.