- December 2021
Health experts regularly claim that exercise is one of the top things you can do to lower your risk of developing one of these chronic problems in the first place, but it’s also important to know that exercise can play a role in managing problems and symptoms you may already be experiencing, says Bradley Prigge, a wellness exercise specialist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.
“If you look at a range of things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, persisting pain, and inflammation — all of these things that are risk factors and symptoms of various chronic conditions — across the board, there is a huge value that comes from increasing fitness and your level of physical activity in your life,” Prigge says.
For instance, aerobic exercise can help prevent heart disease, but if you do develop markers of heart problems — such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure — moderate intensity activity can help stop those problems from causing more serious ones (such as heart attack or stroke).
Exercise is seen as “pleiotropic,” simply meaning that it has “many effects,” says Shawn Flanagan, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of sports medicine and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. Exercise can enhance sleep, protect and improve brain function, develop or maintain bone, muscle, heart and other connective tissues, and promote a healthy immune system, he says.
“Wounds heal faster, medication doses can sometimes be reduced or maintained, and disease severity can be improved considerably depending on the condition,” Dr. Flanagan adds. “The practical benefits are impressive.”
There isn’t a condition out there that “fitness can’t help,” says Scott Parker, a personal trainer in private practice in Los Angeles and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. While there’s a lot of conversation about how to exercise to get a certain body type or look, people can overlook the fact that a huge function of exercise is to maintain and improve our overall health.
Here’s a closer look at how exercise can improve management and symptom relief for several chronic health conditions. And remember, if you have a chronic health condition or other chronic symptoms, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine to make sure it’s safe for you to do and won’t cause further damage.
“I think that, number one, a major problem is that most people don’t see obesity as a chronic disease, but it is,” Parker says.
And one of the first steps you can take to prevent some of the ill effects of obesity (such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can heighten risk of hypertension and heart disease) is to move. It’s not about getting “thin” or “getting abs,” but about being healthy, Parker says. Even a small increase in activity (such as walking a few miles a day or cycling) can take you a long way toward achieving a healthier weight.
For people who are dealing with this persistent, at times all-consuming pain, exercise could be a way to make you feel better. Aerobic exercises, strength-training, stretching, and balance training, for instance, have all been shown to help reduce the pain and disability associated with the condition.
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Prigge says exercise plays a big role in fighting heart disease. If the gym sounds like punishment, try going for a walk, riding a bike, or doing simple aerobic exercises in your living room, adds Parker. Any of these activities can help.
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