Why Exercise Aids in the Management of Chronic Diseases

You probably already know that exercise is one of the most effective ways to prevent chronic illnesses, but it can also help to manage existing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes — as well as the symptoms that come with it.
Why Exercise Aids in the Management of Chronic Diseases


Chronic diseases are the greatest cause of death and disability in the United States when all factors are included. Six out of ten American individuals have one chronic condition, and four out of ten have two or more.

According to Brad Prigge, a wellness exercise specialist who has worked with the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, 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. It's also important to know that exercise can play a role in managing problems and symptoms you may already be experiencing.

"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 said.

Aerobic exercise, for example, can help avoid heart disease, but if you do develop signs of heart problems, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, moderate intensity activity can help keep those problems from progressing to more serious ones (such as heart attack or stroke).
Strength training builds muscle and promotes healthy joints, allowing healthy people to maintain mobility and function as they age. This form of activity, however, can help reduce arthritic pain and improve glucose management in persons with type 2 diabetes. Simple flexibility exercises can assist improve a variety of joint motions, lowering everyone's risk of falling.

 Stretching also relieves joint discomfort and keeps it from worsening in patients with arthritis.

What Is It About Physical Activity That Makes It Such a Wonder Drug?

Exercise is regarded as "pleiotropic," which essentially means that it has "many effects," according to Shawn Flanagan, PhD, assistant professor of sports medicine and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. According to him, exercise can help improve sleep, protect and improve brain function, create or maintain bone, muscle, heart, and other connective tissues, and support a healthy immune system.

"Wounds heal faster, medication doses can sometimes be reduced or maintained, and disease severity can be improved considerably depending on the condition," Dr. Flanagan said. "The practical benefits are impressive."
According to Flanagan, "exercise promotes the release of a number of factors that protect neurons, improve recovery from injury, and likely enhance the integrity of the blood-brain barrier." The blood-brain barrier is a network of blood vessels that regulates what is delivered from the blood into the brain, keeping toxins, pathogens, and inflammation out while allowing beneficial cells and chemicals in.

Flanagan shows that all of these factors are helpful in preventing chronic disease. Neuron loss and inflammation in the brain, for example, have been observed in persons suffering from multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.

There isn't a single condition that "fitness can't help," according to Scott Parker, a personal trainer in private practice in Los Angeles. While there is a lot of discussion on how to exercise to achieve a specific body type or look, people often miss the reality that one of the most important functions of exercise is to maintain and improve our overall health.

Here's a closer look at how exercise can help with chronic disease management and symptom reduction. Also, if you have a chronic health condition or other chronic problems, consult your doctor before beginning a new fitness regimen to ensure that it is safe for you to undertake and will not cause further harm.

Exercise Aids in the Reversal of Obesity and Its Negative Effects
There are several reasons why increasing movement can aid in the fight against obesity. Obesity, defined as a BMI of 30 or greater, is a dangerous chronic condition that affects more than 4 in 10 persons (41.9 percent) in the United States.

Furthermore, 19.7 percent of children in the United States are fat.

 Obesity is responsible for an estimated 112,000 avoidable deaths per year and is on the rise. In 1980, 13.4 percent of adults in the United States were deemed obese, which is far lower than the current proportion.

"I think a major problem is that most people don't see obesity as a chronic disease, but it is," Parker said.

Moving is one of the first actions you can take to avoid some of the negative impacts of obesity (such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can increase your risk of hypertension and heart disease). Parker believes that it is more important to be healthy than to be "thin." Even a minor increase in activity (such as walking a few kilometers per day or cycling) can help you get to a healthier weight.
Exercise can reduce your risk of acquiring heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some malignancies, depression, anxiety, and other disorders if you are obese.

 Losing weight is part of the treatment strategy for the majority of obese people, and exercise can help you do it.
And, according to a 2021 article, for obese persons, increased fitness and physical activity is associated to a longer life even if you don't gain weight.

Moving Aids in the Relief of Fibromyalgia Pain and Improves Function
If you are one of the four million adults in the United States who have fibromyalgia, you may have terrible chronic pain all over your body, exhaustion, headaches, sleeping issues, and depression.


Exercise may be a method to feel better for people who are struggling with this persistent, at times all-consuming agony. Aerobic exercises, weight training, stretching, and balancing training, for example, have all been demonstrated to significantly minimize the condition's pain and handicap.

An aerobic exercise intervention enhanced overall quality of life by reducing pain intensity, enhancing physical function, and reducing stiffness and fatigue, according to a 2017 evaluation.

A 2017 study discovered that practicing qigong, a traditional Chinese system of exercises and breathing, for 30 to 45 minutes each day for six to eight weeks not only improved people's physical and mental health, but also helped them sleep better.

Exercise Aids Diabetes Patients in Managing Blood Sugar Levels
Regular exercise is an important lifestyle intervention that can help control diabetes and prevent further complications for the 37.3 million Americans who have it.

Regular exercise has been demonstrated to aid with glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes (physical activity enhances insulin-sensitivity, or the hormone's capacity to do its job of lowering blood sugar levels) — and it can help you lose weight.

 Better glucose management, greater insulin sensitivity, and losing weight all help to prevent other diabetes-related issues such as hypertension, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Medicine issued a joint statement in 2010 suggesting that patients with type 2 diabetes engage in regular physical activity to help manage the condition.

Exercise Can Help Heart Disease Symptoms and Prevent It From Worsening
Physical activity can help combat heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States each year.

A 2018 study looked at physical exercise and its role in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease (CAD). The researchers discovered that adopting a fitness or exercise regimen into your everyday life can help lessen CAD symptoms, increase blood flow in the heart, and reduce mortality. Exercises that improve blood flow promote oxygen circulation, which avoids the type of plaque development in the arteries that contributes to CAD issues.

According to Prigge, exercise is very important in the fight against heart disease. If going to the gym sounds like punishment, Parker suggests going for a stroll, riding a bike, or doing simple cardiovascular exercises in your living room. Any of these activities can be beneficial.

RELATED: Why Exercise Is Beneficial to Your Heart
However, if you're starting a new fitness program and have heart disease indicators, don't increase the intensity too rapidly. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new habit. If you have heart problems and begin to experience dizziness, odd shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, or chest pains, it is necessary to take a break and notify your doctor of any unusual symptoms. If you already have moderate heart disease, several exercises may aggravate your symptoms and be unsafe.

Even if you don't have a chronic disease, exercise promotes healthy aging.

One of the reasons why exercise is beneficial to people with chronic diseases is that it is beneficial to all people. According to research, physical fitness can actually aid down the aging process.
A 2017 study discovered that high-intensity aerobic exercise can repair some cellular aging symptoms.

 Working exercise will not turn back the clock, but it will increase a person's aerobic capacity (lung function) and mitochondrial activity for skeletal muscles (declining mitochondrial function is connected with muscle atrophy and muscle loss in the elderly).

Flanagan believes that being active as we age is critical. "The primary goal is to maintain activity."

What You Should Know About Midlife Exercise Needs

Flanagan recommends consulting with your doctor to ensure that the intensity and frequency of your workouts are suitable. However, experiment with other sorts of physical activity, such as resistance or strength training and high-intensity exercise. "Resistance exercise is the best way to maintain muscle mass and strength," Flanagan said.

It's natural to consider how the aging process can slow you down or limit what you can achieve, according to Prigge. Your best defense against this is to exercise and stay physically active. "It helps you to continue to do things that you might have taken for granted before," he said. "[Getting regular exercise] helps you experience more in your life."

Carmen Chai contributed reporting.