• Cindi

7 Ways Exercise Can Improve your Health and Reduce Your Risk of Disease

Exercise is not only about cute sports bras and leggings or bragging rights on social media, though, of course, these aren't bad things for those who enjoy them. While social media is overrun with photos of beautiful physiques, the trendiest leggings, and posts about "destroying your quads", the truth is, exercise is CRITICAL for good health.


Exercise is often a first step to looking better and feeling better, but often the last resort for those struggling with an illness. When faced with high blood pressure, arthritis, Type II diabetes or any other chronic condition, most people turn to medicine to manage and control their symptoms. Yet, exercise plays a powerful role not only in the management of disease, but also in the prevention of these diseases.


Heart Health

Exercise improves the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. According to this article in the journal Circulation,

"A major step to reducing the risk of coronary artery disease is to increase daily activity and exercise. Not only can exercise reduce the potential for atherosclerotic plaque formation and progression, but it can also help reduce other risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure."

Aerobic exercise offers the most heart health benefits by forcing the heart to work harder than while at rest. This increased work load makes the heart stronger and improves the efficiency of the heart and cardiovascular system, resulting in a marked improvement in your endurance. You can do more and work harder and your heart and cardiovascular system are able to effectively meet the demands of the added work load.


As endurance improves, other factors in your life benefit as well. Daily tasks like climbing up a few stairs or carrying groceries in from the car, or fun activities such as enjoying a day at the amusement park are no longer exhausting.


Exercise has been shown to reduce blood pressure as a stronger heart can pump blood with less effort. Unlike medication which can have side effects such as dizziness, kidney damage, and fatigue, exercise has no known unhealthy side effects.


Type II Diabetes

A sedentary lifestyle has been implicated as one of the major contributing factors to the onset of Type II diabetes. Increasing physical activity, along with following a healthy diet and losing a few pounds if needed, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce your risk for developing the disease.


For those already diagnosed withType II diabetes, exercise can be an effective management tool. The American Diabetes Association lists exercise as one of the key parts of managing the disease. Consistent exercise may reduce blood glucose and improve your A1C levels which could, in turn, reduce your need for medication.


Osteoporosis and bone health

Weight-bearing exercise can help prevent osteoporosis by building and maintaining bone density. Resistance training strengthens muscles and builds bones, reducing the risk of a fall and possible fracture.


Exercise is part of an overall health management program for those living with osteoporosis/osteopenia as a well-designed exercise program can reduce bone loss, increase bone density, and improve posture and balance to help prevent a fall.


Arthritis

Arthritis is a broad term that refers to more than 100 types of joint diseases and all have varying risk factors. Some of the risk factors such as age and genetic predisposition cannot be changed, but some of the risk factors can be modified.


Osteoarthritis is the form of the disease we most often associate with the term "arthritis". Exercise can help reduce the risk of developing arthritis by strengthening the muscles that support the joints. As these muscle become stronger, the joints become more stable and are less likely to be subject to excessive wear and tear.


Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing arthritis. Exercise and proper diet and bring your weight to a healthy level. If you already have arthritis, maintaining a healthy weight reduces added strain on the joints.


Cancer

We all hope for the day when cancer is better understood and more effectively treated but, until then, many risk factors are modifiable and can help prevent the onset of cancer. Many studies have shown that exercise and physical activity may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, mostly colon, breast, and endometrial.


Ongoing research has uncovered a connection with other forms of cancer and physical activity. In fact, The American Cancer Society found a significant reduction of risk of 13 types of cancer in those who engaged in physical activity.


The fast pace of the research in this field continues to uncover new thoughts, ideas, and facts about cancer and all of the information can become overwhelming. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine may help reduce your risk of certain cancers and, if you are afflicted by cancer, your physical strength and fitness will help you in your fight.


Depression, Anxiety and other Mood Disorders

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, or "feel good" chemicals that can positively impact your mood and help control symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication and/or psychotherapy in treating many mood disorders.


Though the connection is not entirely clear, the release of endorphins and the refocus of thoughts while exercising have beneficial and immediate effects. Exercise can also help improve sleep patterns, reducing insomnia and disrupted sleep in those who suffer from depression and/or anxiety.


Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's is a cruel and deadly disease and researchers are racing to gain better understanding and find a cure. Until a cure is discovered, there are a few things we can do to reduce our risk for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.


The Alzheimer's Association includes exercise as one way that we may reduce our risk of developing the disease. Though the research remains inconclusive, it seems more than plausible that that increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain while exercising can enhance overall brain health.



I have listed 7 ways exercise can improve your health and reduce your risk of chronic disease, but there are so many other ways exercise can improve your health. From better digestion to clearer skin, exercise is a necessary component to a life well-lived.


Prevention is key for maintaining good health. Exercise, a nutritious diet, healthy habits, and stress management all play a synergistic role in our overall health and well-being. Age, gender, and genetics are some aspects that are beyond our control, but a healthy lifestyle can moderate the impact of these nonmodifiable factors.


Those who are managing a chronic disease can reduce symptoms and may even reduce their reliance on medication through a consistent exercise program. Unfortunately, many who suffer from a chronic condition use that as their reason not to exercise. Those who have arthritis often avoid exercise out of fear of exacerbating pain. Those with heart disease fear worsening their condition or experiencing a cardiac event. Yet they will swallow a pill with multiple side effects because it is simple and prescribed.


A well-designed exercise program is a necessary part of a healthy, fulfilling and enjoyable life. BONUS - exercise reduces the aches and pains and many common complaints of "getting older". Exercise strengthens your body and improves your cardiovascular system allowing you to move safely and efficiently without unnecessary wear and tear on your joints and enables you to do more for a longer period of time without fatigue.


Life is short - live it well. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Take the time to learn what works for you, to learn about proper exercise technique, and to keep pushing yourself to do it until it becomes a habit. Invest in yourself, invest in your health and reap enormous benefits that will offer continual, positive returns.



Thanks for reading! I enjoy hearing your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions, so feel free to comment.


If you have questions about beginning an exercise program, don't hesitate to contact me.


And remember - if you are just beginning an exercise program, it is best to check with your doctor.


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