The Impact of Exercise on Chronic Health Conditions

by iio12

Individuals coping with persistent illnesses, often referred to as chronic diseases, must incorporate exercise into their routines. It's crucial to recognize that a lack of physical activity has officially been categorized as a significant contributor to chronic diseases and premature mortality. Studies indicate that physical inactivity carries a health risk equivalent to that of an unhealthy diet and smoking. While this revelation may be surprising for some, it aligns with a fundamental truth: our bodies are designed for movement, and, akin to many aspects of life, their functionality depends on active use.

This article delves into the profound impact of regular physical activity on enhancing overall well-being, fitness, and quality of life. It also examines how exercise plays a pivotal role in mitigating the risk of chronic conditions such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, and even dementia.

How Can Exercise Improve a Chronic Condition?

Besides helping prevent many long-lasting conditions, regular physical activity can help make life better for people who have it. A complete program includes exercise that raises the heart rate, builds muscle and helps keep joints moving well.

Exercise that raises the heart rate is known as aerobic exercise. It can help improve heart health, stamina and weight control.

Strength training, such as lifting weights, can improve muscle strength. Strength training can make it easier to do daily activities. It can slow disease-related losses of muscle strength. And it can help keep joints stable.

Flexibility exercises, such as stretching, can help joints keep moving, so they can work well. Balance exercises might help lower the risk of falls.

Another important part of exercise, especially for older adults and people who have trouble moving, is balance. Balance exercise might prevent falls and lessen injuries from falls. Tai chi, walking backwards and practising standing on one leg are examples of exercises that can improve balance.

How Exercise Can Help Chronic Illnesses

  • Arthritis. Engaging in physical activity can alleviate discomfort, bolster muscle strength around the joints, and reduce joint stiffness. It can also enhance mobility and enhance one's overall quality of life for individuals dealing with arthritis.

  • Asthma. Frequently, exercise can effectively manage the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

  • Back pain. Low-impact aerobic exercise, which elevates heart rate without subjecting the body to excessive stress, can enhance back strength and optimize muscle function. Core-strengthening exercises targeting the abdominal and back muscles can alleviate symptoms by fortifying the muscles supporting the spine.

  • Cancer. Exercise can enhance the quality of life for cancer survivors and enhance physical fitness. Moreover, it has the potential to reduce the risk of mortality associated with breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

  • Dementia. Regular physical activity can enhance cognitive abilities in individuals with dementia. Consistently active individuals are also at a reduced risk of developing dementia and cognitive impairments.

  • Depression and anxiety. Maintaining a regular exercise routine aids in ameliorating symptoms associated with both depression and anxiety.

  • Diabetes. Consistent physical activity contributes to the regulation of blood sugar levels, weight management, and increased energy levels. For those with type 2 diabetes, exercise can diminish the risk of succumbing to heart disease.

  • Heart disease. A habitual exercise regimen benefits heart health, reducing the risk of both heart disease-related mortality and the progression of the condition.

  • Osteoporosis. In cases of osteoporosis, a condition characterized by bone thinning and weakening, specific exercises such as brisk walking and weightlifting promote bone density and decelerate bone loss.

What Exercises are Safe?

A healthcare provider might suggest some exercises to ease pain or build strength. Depending on your condition, you might not be able to do some exercises at all or during flare-ups. Some people might need to talk to a physical or occupational therapist before starting to exercise.

People with low back pain, for example, might choose exercises that can raise heart rate without putting stress on the back. Walking and swimming are good choices.

Keeping an inhaler handy during exercise is important for people who have asthma that's brought on by exercise. You can avoid heavy and advanced gym equipment and opt for something that your doctor recommends. 

For people with arthritis, exercises depend on the type of arthritis and which joints are involved. A healthcare provider, such as a physical therapist, can help make an exercise plan that will help joints without hurting them.

How Much Physical Activity Do You Need?

For Adults:

Engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly, along with muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two days. Adults aged 65 and above should also incorporate activities that enhance balance.


  • Adults, consider dedicating 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to brisk walking.

  • For older adults, practising balance-enhancing activities like standing on one foot or walking heel-to-toe can be beneficial.

For Kids (Aged 6-17):

Aim for a minimum of 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of daily physical activity.

For Preschool-Aged Children (Aged 3-5):

Encourage regular physical activity throughout the day, providing ample opportunities for active play.

While initially challenging, incorporating consistent physical activity into your routine can be achieved by varying the types and amounts of physical activity throughout the week to meet these goals.

Preparing for Exercise

Is there anything specific I should do before getting started? Depending on your individual health condition, it's possible that your healthcare provider may recommend certain precautions before beginning an exercise regimen.

For individuals with diabetes, for instance, it's crucial to understand that exercise can lower blood sugar levels. Therefore, checking your blood sugar before engaging in physical activity is essential. Those who use insulin or diabetes medications that reduce blood sugar may require a small snack before exercise to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

For individuals with arthritis, a warm shower before exercise can be beneficial. Heat application can alleviate joint and muscle stiffness and relieve pain. Additionally, selecting appropriate footwear with shock-absorption features and joint stability during exercise is of paramount importance.

Managing Your Expectations

What can I anticipate in terms of how I will feel during and after exercise? It's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider regarding the expected levels of discomfort or fatigue during and after exercise and seek strategies to mitigate these sensations. It's essential to understand what is considered normal and when certain symptoms might indicate a more serious issue. Pay close attention to your body's signals.

For individuals with heart disease, symptoms such as dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, chest pain, or irregular heartbeats should prompt an immediate cessation of exercise.

Tips for Initiating and Sustaining Physical Activity

1. If you have a chronic condition like type 2 diabetes or heart disease, consult your doctor before commencing an exercise routine.

2. Seek the support of your friends and family, and encourage them to join you in staying active.

3. Begin gradually and incrementally increasing the duration, frequency, or intensity of your workouts every week.

4. Plan your physical activity during the times of day or week when you have the most energy.

5. Prioritize physical activity by incorporating it into your daily or weekly schedule.

6. Opt for walking instead of driving for short distances, or park your vehicle farther away from your destination to incorporate a walk into your routine.

7. Advocate for neighbourhood improvements that promote walking or biking to facilitate your preferred mode of transportation.

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