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Exercise and Chronic Disease

It hasn’t been all that long since excercise and chronic disease would have been thought to be, as my children would say, an oxymoron.

Exercise and Chronic Disease

Everyone, including physicians, thought that people with chronic diseases were past the point where they could exercise and be “fit”, let alone that it would make a difference. My, how things change.

Exercise is now thought of by many as medicine. As with any medicine, it comes in a prescription:

  • Exercise A, taken N times daily for X duration of weeks/months/years.
  • The exercise type is selected according to the person’s needs, goals and ability levels.
  • Frequency and intensity are appropriate to the person and their state of health and endurance.
  • Even adverse effects are acknowledged as part of the prescription.

Before You Start

See your physician for a complete physical exam. Your doctor may want to run some tests that will help write your prescription. You may want to see a Sports Medicine physician.

Possible Exercises for Different Chronic Diseases

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the four exercise groups: Endurance (aerobic), Strength, Balance and Flexibility. We’ll use these as we look at exercises that might be appropriate for various common chronic diseases.

  • Hypertension: Endurance/aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, dancing or even jogging. Start slowly and work up to 30 minutes, 3 times/week, and then to 50-60 minutes/day, 3-4 days/week. Strength training is thought to be of benefit as well.
  • Heart Failure: Talk about change; it’s not been that long since bed rest was thought to be the maximum exercise for persons with heart failure. Mild aerobic exercise and mild strength exercises improve endurance, blood flow to the legs, breathing and reducing symptoms. Interval training (short bursts of more intensive exercise with short rest periods in between) is another possible approach. Exercising in your safe zone is important.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Mild aerobic exercise (walking) is thought to be more helpful than high intensity exercise (running).
  • Osteoarthritis: Range of motion exercises and strength exercises can be valuable to a person with arthritis. Non-weight bearing exercises such as water aerobics, swimming, cycling) can avoid some of the pain that might accompany other exercises. If joint pain lasts for more than an hour after exercise, you may be working too hard.
  • Cognitive Disorders: There is thought to be improvement in cognition (memory, attention, reaction time and intelligence) from aerobic exercises. Safety can be a concern in older persons with cognitive deficits so proper attire, safe environments and simple equipment are essential. Supervision is a must. Chair exercises with household items accompanied by familiar music can be effective as participation and function improvement.

Am I Working Too Hard – or Not Hard Enough?

Simple clues

  • If you cannot talk and exercise at the same time, you are working too hard.
  • If you can talk while you are exercising, you are doing fine.
  • If you can sing while you exercise, you may not be working hard enough.

Interim HealthCare of the Upstate serves many people with chronic diseases. Physical Therapy is an essential part of most every home health episode. Our experienced therapists teach patients to recognize their safe zone, and work with them to expand it. In our Personal Care service, our Care Professionals use our proprietary HomeLife Enrichment program which includes focus on Mind, Body, Spirit and Family.


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