Regular Exercise and Chronic Disease

Regular Exercise and Chronic Disease

Regular Exercise and Chronic Disease

If you have a chronic condition–such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or back/joint pain–regular exercise can have important health benefits

Before taking part in any physical activity, consult your doctor as they will be able to provide advice on your specific situation to ensure you are staying safe. The following are generalised recommendations. 

Exercise is pleiotropic, meaning it has many effects. We’ve covered in the previous blogs the benefits it has on bone density, blood pressure, sleep, and of course weight loss, but the benefits go far beyond that. There is a lot of talk about how to exercise if you are looking to achieve a desired body type or look, which means that people can often overlook the fact that a major and primary function of exercise is simply to maintain and improve our overall health.

Scott Parker, a personal trainer and spokesperson for the American Heart Association says that there isn’t a condition out there that “fitness can’t help”. When it comes to the brain, exercise can promote the release of a number of factors that protect our neurons, improve recovery from injury, and enhance the integrity of the blood-brain barrier; the group of blood vessels that control what gets transporting from and to the brain, preventing toxins, pathogens and inflammation from getting in, but equally helping cells and molecules enter.

All of those things are key when it comes to thwarting chronic disease. Neuron damage and inflammation in the brain, for example, are known to happen in people who have multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

// Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise can help improve your heart health and endurance, as well as aid in weight loss. High-intensity interval training is generally the safest, and also the most effective, as it demands less time. During high-intensity interval training, you alternate exercise from high levels of intensity to a less intense level for short periods of time, even activities such as walking at higher intensities count. 

// Strength Training 

Strength training can improve muscle strength and endurance, make it easier to complete daily activities, slow disease-related declines in muscle strength, and provide joints with more stability.

Flexibility exercises can encourage an optimal range of motion in your joints, help them to function better, and reduce the risk of falls.

// Heart Disease

Regular exercise can help to improve your heart health. Interval training is often well tolerated amongst those who suffer from heart disease as it can produce significant benefits.
Researchers have found that structured exercise training — incorporating a fitness or exercise routine in your daily life — can help reduce CAD symptoms, improve blood flow in the heart, and reduce mortality. Increased oxygen circulation caused by exercise improves blood flow and prevents plaque buildup in the arteries that lead to CAD complications. 

If the gym is not for you, try going for a walk, riding a bike, or doing simple aerobic exercises in your living room, as any of these activities can help.

Avoid using high intensity too soon when embarking on a new exercise program if you have markers of heart disease. Always check with your doctor about a new routine. If you have heart disease and start experiencing dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, or chest pains, take a break and let your doctor know about unusual symptoms. If you already have heart disease (even moderately), some exercises may worsen symptoms and may not be safe.

// Type 2 Diabetes

Regular exercise is shown to help with glucose control amongst those who suffer from type 2 diabetes. This is because activity improves insulin-sensitivity, or the ability of the hormone to do its job to lower your blood sugar levels, as well as helping you control your weight. 

Better glucose control improved insulin sensitivity, and carrying less weight are all factors which can help prevent other problems which may be closely linked to diabetes, such as hypertension, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

// Other Chronic Diseases

– Asthma: Often, exercise can help control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

– Back pain: Regular low-impact aerobic activities can increase the strength and endurance in your back which improves muscle function. Abdominal and back muscle exercises (core-strengthening exercises) may also help to reduce symptoms by strengthening the muscles around your spine.

– Arthritis: Exercise can reduce pain, help maintain muscle strength in affected joints, and reduce joint stiffness. It can also improve physical function and quality of life for people who have arthritis.

– Cancer: Exercise can improve the quality of life for people who’ve had cancer, as well as improving their fitness. Exercise can also lower the risk of dying from breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

– Dementia: Exercise can improve cognition in people with dementia, and people who are active on a regular basis are at less risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.

// What’s Safe? 

Your doctor may recommend specific exercises to reduce pain or build strength. Depending on your condition, you might also need to avoid certain exercises altogether or just during flare-ups.

If you have low back pain, for example, you might choose low-impact aerobic activities, such as walking and swimming as these types of activities won’t strain or jolt your back. If you have exercise-induced asthma, be sure to keep an inhaler handy while you exercise. If you have arthritis, the exercises that are best for you will depend on the type of arthritis you have and which joints are affected. Work with your doctor or a physical therapist to create an exercise plan that will give you the most benefit with the least aggravation on your joints.

// How Often, How Much, and at What Intensity?

Before starting an exercise routine, talk with your doctor about how long your exercise sessions can be and what level of intensity is safe for you. In general, try to do about 30 minutes of physical activity a day at least five days a week. Or you can break up your physical activity

into short intervals throughout the day–any activity is better than none at all.

If you’re not able to do a lot of activity, just do as much as you can. Even just an hour a week of physical activity can have beneficial health implications. Start by moving more and sitting less, then work your way up to moving more each day. If you haven’t been active for a while, start slow and build it up gradually. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor what kind of exercise goals you are able to safely set for yourself. 


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