How exercise may help ease symptoms of a medical condition
It’s no secret that being physically active is one of the best things a person can do for their body and mind. Exercise may even help lower the risk of some medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.1
Exercise can also help ease symptoms and slow the advance of medical conditions a person already has, says Ben Singh, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and research fellow at the University of South Australia in Adelaide. Some of these existing conditions may include high blood pressure, arthritis, and even multiple sclerosis, he adds.
Exercise is amazing that way. Adding more physical activity may help a person sleep better at night and improve their mood.1 That goes a long way toward feeling healthier. And not much movement is needed to help obtain those benefits either.
“People may think they need to go to a gym to get exercise. But they can do all the activity that’s required from home,” says Bahram Arjmandi, Ph.D., director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging at Florida State University. That means gardening counts, as does dancing in the family room or taking a stroll around your home or yard.
If you’re new to exercising, talk to a provider before starting, to make sure it’s safe. Once you have the okay, find activities you enjoy, suggests Singh. It may sound obvious, but when you like what you’re doing, you’re more likely to keep at it.
Here are some unexpected ways that working out may help improve some common medical conditions and issues.
Exercise helps manage blood sugar
Any physical activity that gets a person’s heart rate up can help the body use insulin better.2 That’s the hormone that keeps blood sugar levels steady. It also lowers blood sugar.2 That’s good news for the 16 million Americans aged 65 and older with diabetes.3 But it’s also critical for the 23 million more with prediabetes.4
Try this: Strength training can also keep blood sugar in check for people at risk of diabetes.5 That includes lifting light weights or doing push-ups, squats and planks. Walking is also a great choice — even a 2- to 5-minute stroll after a meal may lower blood sugar.6
Exercise may help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure
Many people with high blood pressure or cholesterol manage the conditions with medications. But exercise can help improve those numbers further. It can drop bad cholesterol by as much as 6 points, and lower blood pressure by 3 to 4 points.7 Exercise may also help a person lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And that can lower cholesterol and blood pressure even more.
Try this: Aim to get in 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. That sounds like a lot. But it’s roughly 20 minutes a day. You can also break that chunk into 10-minute bursts. Good activities may include a brisk walk, shooting hoops or playing tag with the grandkids.
Exercise may help ease arthritis aches
Exercising with arthritis may not always be easy. But it’s one of the best ways to keep joints healthier and help lower arthritis-related pain,8 strengthen bones and lift mood.
Try this: Choose joint-friendly, low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, light gardening, or dancing. Again, aim for 150 minutes a week. Don’t worry if you don’t reach that goal — just stay as active as possible.8
Exercise helps prevent falls
Exercise reduces the chances of falling by 23%, studies show.9 It does that by helping to strengthen muscles and boost balance.10
Try this: Tai chi and walking may be great ways to help improve balance and strength.10 You can also do something simple like rising from sitting to standing while holding onto the back of a chair, Arjmandi suggests. It also helps enhance muscles.
Exercise helps strengthens bones
After age 50, as many as 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have osteoporosis.10 And both men and women start losing bone mass as young as age 40. Here’s the good news: Certain exercises don’t just slow bone loss, they even encourage bone growth.11
Try this: Exercises that are especially good at building bones include strength training, hiking, dancing, and stair climbing.
At the end of the day, the important thing is to just start moving. Go slowly and build confidence and endurance, Singh says.
“It’s important to listen to the body and not push it beyond its limits,” he says. “Take your time and focus on the benefits. Exercise can be a safe and effective way to help improve health and well-being.”