Beyond the well-known benefits of weight management and helping maintain strength, balance, and flexibility, regular exercise can also help reduce the occurrence of a host of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, breast cancer, and heart disease.
One study found that regular physical activity was associated with a risk reduction of 75% for breast cancer, 49% for cardiovascular and heart disease, 35% for diabetes, and 22% for colorectal cancer.
For people already suffering from a chronic condition, it’s also important to work up a sweat a few times a week because regular physical activity helps manage symptoms and improves overall health.
Here’s how exercise can help in the prevention and management of some of the most common chronic conditions.
Research has shown that consistent physical activity, along with other healthy lifestyle habits (such as maintaining a healthful diet) can help in the prevention or management of type 2 diabetes. How exactly? Being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes – staying active helps control weight, in turn reducing risk. Regular exercise can also help insulin more effectively lower blood sugar levels. In fact, physical activity can lower blood glucose up to 24 hours or more after a workout by making the body more sensitive to insulin.
Many major risk factors that led to heart disease are within our control, and 80% of premature heart attacks (and strokes) are preventable. The key is maintaining healthy eating habits, living smoke-free, reducing stress levels, and getting regular exercise, which helps improve heart health.
The impact of exercise on heart disease prevention and management cannot be understated: those who are inactive have double the risk of heart disease (and stroke). Exercise has a positive effect on several risk factors for cardiovascular disease – for example, by promoting weight reduction, reducing blood pressure, and lowering “bad” cholesterol levels and total cholesterol while raising “good” cholesterol. If you or a loved one already suffers from heart disease, regular activity is a vital component to ensuring a good recovery.
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 8.8 million deaths in 2015. When it comes to reducing our risk for cancer, regular exercise plays an even bigger role than previously thought.
While previous studies examining the link between physical activity and cancer risk yielded inconclusive results for most types of cancer – with the exception of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers – a new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in May 2016, found that physical activity is also associated with a lower risk for several other types of cancer, including liver cancer, stomach cancer, and kidney cancer, among others.
As in the case of other chronic diseases, one way that exercise may lower the risk of cancer is through weight maintenance. Beyond this, regular physical activity is also associated with lower estrogen and insulin levels, both of which may reduce the risk of some types of cancer. For those undergoing cancer treatment, research shows that exercise can improve a patient’s quality of life by lowering the risk of falls, improving balance, and helping maintain muscle strength.
Winter workout tips
The motivation to fit in a workout can often decline as the mercury plummets. Here are a few ideas to help you get moving on dark and frigid days when the temptation of the couch and TV may prove hard to resist.
- Take advantage of the season: Outdoor winter activities like skating, snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding are fun and you’ll keep warm while working up a sweat.
- Think beyond the gym: What are some indoor activities you enjoy? Bowling, swimming, indoor skating, hockey or mall walking can help you stay active without having to brave the cold.
- Small bursts of activity: You can stay active in winter by fitting in small bursts of activity during your day – for example, by taking the stairs instead of the lift at work (and/or climbing stairs during your break), walking your kids to school, parking your car further away from your destination, or getting off the bus or metro one stop earlier to fit in more walking to work or back home.
 “Physical activity in the prevention of the most frequent chronic diseases: an analysis of the recent evidence,” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Kruk, J. 2007.