Exercise and Chronic Health Problems

Although I'm working more as a food coach than an exercise coach these days by virtue of the popularity of meal catering, I'm still a firm believer in the healing power of movement and exercise. The question is not whether to exercise or not, it's how one moves in regard to speed, intensity, duration, frequency and various well-positioned periods of rest. For those with chronic health problems exercise can be even more elusive simply because we are used to thinking that healing involves rest and straining oneself could be potentially harmful. This type of thinking is being left behind even by the medical community. I've excerpted some points from an article from the New York Times on how people with chronic health problems can improve their health and quality of life by learning how to exercise safely.

  • The data shows that regular moderate exercise increases your ability to battle the effects of disease. It has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being. The goal is to do as much physical exercise as your body lets you do, and rest when you need to rest.
  • In years past, doctors were afraid to let heart patients exercise but not anymore; the core of cardiac rehab is a progressive exercise program to increase the ability of the heart to pump oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood more effectively throughout the body. The outcome is better endurance, greater ability to enjoy life and decreased mortality.
  • Aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure in people with hypertension, and it improves peripheral circulation in people who develop cramping leg pains when they walk — a condition called intermittent claudication. The treatment for it, in fact, is to walk a little farther each day.
  • Aerobic and strength exercises have been shown to improve endurance, walking speed and the ability to perform tasks of daily living up to six years after a stroke.
  • Perhaps the most immediate benefits of exercise are reaped by people with joint and neuromuscular disorders. Without exercise, those at risk of osteoarthritis become crippled by stiff, deteriorated joints. But exercise that increases strength and aerobic capacity can reduce pain, depression and anxiety and improve function, balance and quality of life.
  • Exercise that builds gradually and protects inflamed joints can diminish pain, fatigue, morning stiffness, depression and anxiety and improve strength, walking speed and activity.
  • Water exercises are particularly helpful for people with multiple sclerosis, who must avoid overheating. And for those with Parkinson’s, resistance training and aerobic exercise can increase their ability to function independently and improve their balance, stride length, walking speed and mood.
  • For people suffering from depression, mastering a new skill such as exercise increases their sense of worth, improves mood and the endorphins released during exercise improve well-being.
  • The feel-good hormones released through exercise can help sustain activity. With regular exercise, the body seeks to continue staying active.
  • It is recommended that an exercise program be tailored to the person’s current abilities, daily needs, medication schedule, side effects and response to treatment.
  • Trainers who work with people with chronic ailments should start slowly with easily achievable goals, build gradually on each accomplishment and focus on functional gains. Over time, a sense of accomplishment, better sleep, less pain and enhanced satisfaction with life can become further reasons to pursue physical activity.
read the full article here

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