Do you have a chronic disease?

If you have a chronic disease or condition, you might have questions about exercising. How often can you exercise? Which exercises are safe? Understand the basics about exercise and chronic disease.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

How can exercise improve a chronic disease or condition?

If you have a chronic disease or condition, regular exercise can help you manage symptoms and improve your health.

Aerobic exercise can help to improve your heart health and endurance and aid in weight loss. Strength training can improve muscle strength and endurance, make it easier to do daily activities, slow disease-related declines in muscle strength, and provide stability to joints. Flexibility exercises may help you to have optimal range of motion about your joints, so they can function best, and stability exercises may help reduce the risk of falls.

For example:

  • Heart disease. Regular exercise can help improve your heart health. Recent studies have shown that interval training is often tolerated well in people with heart disease, and it can produce significant benefits.
  • Diabetes. Regular exercise can help insulin more effectively lower your blood sugar level. Physical activity also can help you control your weight and boost your energy.
  • Asthma. Often, exercise can help control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
  • Back pain. Regular low-impact aerobic activities can increase strength and endurance in your back and improve muscle function. Abdominal and back muscle exercises (core-strengthening exercises) may help 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.

What exercises are safe?

Your doctor might recommend specific exercises to reduce pain or build strength. Depending on your condition, you might also need to avoid certain exercises altogether or during flare-ups. In some cases, you might need to consult a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or personal trainer before starting to exercise.

If you have low back pain, for example, you might choose low-impact aerobic activities, such as walking and swimming. These types of activities won’t strain or jolt your back.

If you have exercise-induced asthma, you might choose activities that involve short bursts of activity — such as tennis or baseball. If you use an inhaler, be sure to keep it handy while you exercise.

If you have arthritis, the exercises that are best for you will depend on the type of arthritis and which joints are involved. 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 can I safely exercise?

Before starting an exercise routine, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how long your exercise sessions can be and what level of intensity is safe for you.

If you haven’t been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually. Ask your doctor what kind of exercise goals you can safely set for yourself as you progress.

Do I need to take special steps before getting started?

Depending on your condition, your doctor might recommend certain precautions before exercising.

If you have diabetes, for example, keep in mind that physical activity lowers blood sugar. Check your blood sugar level before any activity. If you take insulin or diabetes medications that lower blood sugar, you might need to eat a snack before exercising to help prevent low blood sugar.

If you have arthritis, consider taking a warm shower before you exercise. Heat can relax your joints and muscles and relieve any pain you might have before you begin. Also, be sure to choose shoes that provide shock absorption and stability during exercise.

What kind of discomfort can I expect?

Talk to your doctor about what kind of discomfort you might expect during or after exercise, as well as any tips for minimizing your pain. Find out what type or degree of pain might be normal and what might be a sign of something more serious.

If you have heart disease, for example, signs or symptoms that you should stop exercising include dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, chest pain or an irregular heartbeat.

What else do I need to know?

Starting a regular exercise routine can be tough.

To help you stick with your routine, consider exercising with a friend or working with a personal trainer. You might also ask your doctor to recommend an exercise program for people who have your condition, perhaps through a local hospital, clinic or health club.

To stay motivated, choose activities that are fun, set realistic goals and celebrate your progress.

How can a Fitness Professional or Personal Trainer benefit me?

A personal trainer serves as your fitness coach and great motivator! Whether you’re just starting an exercise program, or are an experienced exercise patient, a personal trainer can help you meet your health goals. Always check with your doctor first though before you increase your physical activity levels and ensure your health care professional advises you on the best exercise to suit your disease condition or health problems. Different diseases respond to different exercise programs.

Personal training usually includes:

A health and exercise evaluation. This is a series of tests – overall fitness, flexibility, muscle strength and endurance – used to measure your fitness level. Your trainer should ask about your health conditions, medications and exercise experience. An assessment of your health and fitness to exercise may also be provided by your doctor to the personal trainer.

A personalized exercise and health program.There is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise and health. A personal trainer will create an exercise program for you based on your goals, interests, ability level and schedule. Your trainer will modify the program as goals are met.

Supervised exercise. Your Personal Trainer should teach you proper exercise techniques that minimize injury risk and maximize results. If you have a question or your posture or outcomes are not achieved, your trainer should be right there to help you. Also, he or she can encourage you to keep going when you feel like giving up!

But we all need support and motivation to keep enjoying exercising!

Share any concerns you might have about your exercise program — from getting started to keeping it up — with your doctor.


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