Living With a Chronic Disease? 4 Best Tips for Exercising

Take it slow and work around your limitations

Living With a Chronic Disease? 4 Best Tips for Exercising

Regular physical activity is the most important thing you can do for your health. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

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But what if you have a chronic condition such as heart diseaseasthma or back pain, and you’re limited in what you can do?

By following the AHA’s guidelines on exercise, you can:

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Minimize your risk for some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your ability to keep up with daily activities
  • Increase your chances of living longer

If you’re living with a chronic condition, even a small amount of physical activity — 60 minutes per week — can have significant health benefits.

Exercise can help you manage your symptoms while improving your health. Not only is it good for your body, but it can also improve your mental health and mood, decrease depression and anxiety, and improve and preserve cognitive functioning.

Here are four tips to help you get started with exercise when you have a chronic disease:

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  1. Walk, don’t run

Even when you have a serious health condition it’s best to get up off the couch and start moving if you can. Don’t stay sedentary.

One of the easiest exercises anyone can do is walking. You don’t have to break a sweat. You just have to move and get your blood flowing.

  1. Choose low-impact aerobic exercises

Choose low-impact aerobic activities such as riding a stationary bike or swimming to get your heart rate up without hurting your body.

  1. Start slow

If your health problems have kept you from exercising for a long time, start slowly. Walking for an hour at a time may cause you to become so fatigued that you might not want to try it again. Keep it simple.

Start out with 10 minutes or 20 minutes for the first couple weeks and then work your way up to a longer duration and even a faster pace. If you find it difficult to move very easily, try something as easy as chair yoga.

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Any small increase in your daily activity can help you make major improvements in your overall health and well-being.

  1. Use resistance bands

While you’re likely not up to heavy lifting, resistance bands are a good alternative. They come in a variety of resistances (light, medium and heavy), and you can adjust how intense your workouts are by using more or less slack in the band.

To get the best results with resistance bands, maintain correct posture, move slowly and keep constant tension on the stretch band.

Talk to your doctor before you start

Whether you’re healthy or living with a chronic disease, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. He or she may have some suggestions on an exercise regimen that suits your needs and works around any possible limitations.

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Christopher Travers, MS

Christopher Travers, MS, is an exercise physiologist on staff for both Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Cleveland Clinic Executive Health.