We all know that exercise can benefit us physically as well as mentally. This benefit is further emphasised as we get older. On the other hand, if you’re inactive you’re much more likely to develop a variety of illnesses and diseases as you move into your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond. However, numerous studies have shown what we’ve believed all along – that we can help prevent many common illnesses and diseases through regular exercise and sensible nutrition choices.
How does exercise help prevent common diseases?
Exercise can improve muscle strength and flexibility for Arthritis sufferers and alleviate the impact of the condition. A study conducted by Queen Mary University of London published in July 2019 found that exercise can actually help prevent the deterioration of cartilage caused by arthritis. When you exercise, the forces compress joint cartilage in your knees and hips for example, in a beneficial way — the cells in the cartilage respond to this compression by inhibiting inflammatory compounds commonly linked to painful conditions such as arthritis.
Some exercises which can help prevent arthritis may include:
- Weight training
There is lots of evidence which suggests that regular exercise helps reduce the risk of developing bowel, breast and possibly womb cancer. Cancer starts when cells multiply out of control. Lowering insulin levels could help stop some types of cancer from developing. Exercise helps to reduce insulin levels.
Movement and activity helps to control inflammation in our bowels and also helps food pass through our digestive system, meaning the inside lining of our bowel spends less time in contact with harmful chemicals. These are two of the ways that activity can reduce our risk of developing bowel cancer.
The University of Sydney conducted a study involving over 80,000 adults to determine the most effective type of exercise to help prolong life. Strength training was found to be more effective at prolonging life than cardiovascular workouts.
“The study found that strength training twice a week reduced the likelihood of dying from cancer by 31%. In fact, the overall likelihood for any type of premature death decreased by 23%. Combining both strength training and cardio workouts had the best outcomes, and it was unclear as to how beneficial cardio was on its own.
The American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute conducted a study in May 2016 which linked exercise with a lower risk of 13 specific types of cancer including; colon, breast, endometrial, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, kidney cancer, myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, as well as cancers of the head and neck, rectum, bladder, and lung (in both current and ex-smokers)
There is also good evidence that being active can help people during and following cancer treatment, according to Cancer Research UK. They suggest that it’s important to try and get back to normal activities as soon as possible including regular activity.
“All adults should also try and build strength twice a week; for example, weight training or yoga. Remember that everyone is different and exercise needs to be tailored to you. Take into account your fitness, diagnosis, and other factors that could affect safety.” (1)
Chronic Renal Failure
You can reduce the impact of renal failure on the body through aerobic exercise and strength training.
According to the National Kidney Foundation;
“Exercise helps kidney disease by improving muscle function, lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, keeping a healthy body weight and improving your sleep.”
Dialysis patients who regularly exercise experience an increase in blood volume and red blood cell mass, according to Goldberg et al. in “Therapeutic Benefits of Exercise Training for Hemodialysis Patients.”
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive Heart Failure is when your heart does not pump at an optimal level. If your cells and tissues cannot get enough blood to them, it can make everyday, normal activities feel extremely difficult.
“Exercise can spur the growth of new cells to mend weakened muscles and spur the growth of blood vessels in people with heart failure, according to two new studies.”
“People with heart failure can regain 70% of their exercise capacity if they stick to an exercise program,” says Axel Linke, MD.
Aerobic exercise can help your heart work better by improving blood flow. This means your cells and tissue will receive the oxygen and nutrients they desperately need to function well.
Strength training initiates muscle development, which in turn nurtures the growth of tissues. This development is crucial, as it helps to improve the intake of oxygen, enhancing the breathing rythym.
It’s important to take it easy, especially when starting in order to increase the benefit of the exercise and to minimise any risks. If you are unfit or sedentary the best advice is to build up your cardiovascular fitness before attempting resistance training.
Coronary Artery Disease
According to a study published in 2011,
“Since 1990, more people have died from coronary artery disease (CAD) than from any other cause. While genetic factors play a part, 80-90% of people dying from CAD have one or more major risk factors that are influenced by lifestyle.”
Exercise has become a major strategy to help prevent Coronary Artery Disease and also in the rehabilitation of cardiac patients as this study below highlights.
“Exercise training has assumed a major role in cardiac rehabilitation, mostly because of its positive effects on myocardial perfusion in patients with coronary artery disease.”
Exercise can help prevent coronary artery disease by reducing risk factors. These include; controlling blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and strengthening your heart. Both strength training and cardiovascular training play their part but it’s important to check with your doctor before commencing a training plan. This is to ensure that the training plan is appropriate for you.
When you have depression just the thought of getting out of bed can be extremely challenging never mind going to the gym or following a workout programme. Having said that there is a lot of evidence, both peer reviewed and anecdotal, that exercise can be an effective way to get through depression. Harvard Medical School goes as far to say that “exercise is as effective as drugs in some cases.”
“In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.” – Dr Michael Craig Millar
Exercise can help alleviate depression due to a number of factors;
Hormone Balance – Exercise stimulates the release of several hormones including endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These chemicals in your brain help to regulate your mood.
Endorphins – When these are released they reduce your perception of pain and also act as sedatives. They’re commonly referred to as the feel good hormones.
Serotonin – When serotonin is released your mood and general sense of well-being improves. This can positively affect your appetite and sleep density which tend to be negatively impacted depression and can have serious knock on effects on your health.
Build Confidence – As commonly said, when you look better, you feel better. Setting and hitting your goals, even small ones, it gives you confidence and builds self esteem.
Reduced Stress – Extreme stress can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. Exercise can help you to forget about the stresses of life and put them in perspective. This can help you escape the vicious cycle of anxiety.
Improved Sleep – As mentioned above, sleep is one area which suffers during depression. Exercise helps you to sleep better by physically and mentally exhausting you.
The best type of exercise to do if you have depression is the one you enjoy. When you don’t feel like doing anything, youre going to be more likely to actually do one that you enjoy. It’s also important to set yourself realistic, appropriate goals.
Regular exercise is among the most beneficial preventative measures you can take for hypertension. This helps to control and reduce high blood pressure as well as reducing the strain on blood vessels. Aside from this, exercise and nutrition aids in fat loss which further lowers blood pressure as your body doesn’t have to work as hard moving around inactive tissue like fat.
Obesity is a massive health issue in itself but it is also commonly linked to increased risk of; heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Obesity occurs when you regularly consume more calories than your body requires. Exercise is an obvious way to counteract this by;
- increasing activity, thereby burning more calories
- speeding up your metabolism so you burn more calories at rest
- increasing muscle tissue in the long term,so your body can use more calories in order to sustain itself.
Proper nutrition with the right amount of calories has consistently been shown to be the most effective way to combat obesity but exercise can certainly assist in beating it and keeping it away. If you’re extremely overweight, it’s best to avoid high impact exercises like running and jumping due to the impact it has on your joints. Instead, opt for walking, swimming, weightlifting or other low impact exercises.
As the Royal Osteoporosis Society state,
“After a diagnosis of osteoporosis or if you have risk factors, you should do more exercise, rather than less. Being physically active and exercising helps you in so many ways, and is very unlikely to cause a broken bone.”
Research has shown that regular exercise, especially strength training can make bones stronger, slowing down the rate of bone loss. Rotational movements can be particularly beneficial where the muscle attachments pull on the bone. Alongside exercise, a balanced diet which includes good sources of Vitamin D and Calcium is incredibly important.
Stroke Association UK makes it clear that,
“After a stroke, starting to be more active can be a massive boost to your recovery and your confidence. Almost anyone can find a way to add movement into daily life.”
Gentle, regular intensity cardiovascular exercise can help prevent strokes by lowering blood pressure. Regular, low intensity exercise is currently considered the most effective method.
The British Medical Journal points out that,
“There are a number of biological reasons why exercise might be beneficial in preventing stroke. Habitual exercise has been shown to have beneficial effects on a number risk factors for stroke, namely hypertension, dyslipidaemia, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco use.”
Type II Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes usually occurs in those over 40 years old. Regular exercise and sensible nutrition can help to prevent it and manage it, even in those who are considered high risk. Regular moderate to high intensity exercise has been shown to be most effective through a combination of both resistance and cardiovascular. The reason that exercise can help prevent and reduce the impact of Type 2 Diabetes by working the muscles so they use more glucose than those don’t work. Muscle activation means an increase in sugar uptake by the muscle cells and therefore reduced blood sugar levels.
Most Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis lead to complications such as blocked arteries which can lead to heart attacks. Regular exercise can significantly reduce this risk.
Parkinson’s Disease & Multiple Sclerosis
Parkinson’s Disease is most common in people over 50 and in the early stages of the disease exercise can help improve coordination, balance and range of motion.
According to The Parkinson’s Foundation;
“Research has shown that exercise can improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.”
The type of exercise you choose depends on how Parkinsons’ Disease affects you personally. One study conducted showed that those with Parkinsons’s Disease who start exercising earlier, a minimum of 2.5 hours each week, experienced a slower decline in quality of life compared to those who started later.
Multiple Sclerosis affects around 100,000 people in the UK. Regular exercise and stretching have been shown to help retain mobility, coordination, posture and balance for sufferers. Exercising with MS can be challenging so it’s important to choose exercises that are appropriate.
Exercise studies conducted with people living with MS found improvements in;
- cardiovascular fitness
- bladder and bowel function
- cognitive function
- bone density
It’s important not to overdo your workout. Your training programme should be tailored to you and your level of ability.
When Should You Start Exercising?
Right NOW! Just kidding. You should finish reading the rest of this article first.
But seriously, if there are specific diseases which run in your family, for example heart disease, depression, cancer, osteoporosis etc, the sooner you start making exercise part of your lifestyle the better. You will dramatically reduce the likelihood that you will develop these diseases. Be sure to check with your doctor if you are currently being treated for a disease before embarking on an exercise programme.
If you’re currently suffering from any of the above illnesses you might be feeling tired and frustrated that you can’t exercise as you would like, which is understandable.
Exercise and sensible eating doesn’t make us bulletproof. Sadly, 10/10 people die, of something, somehow. Exercise doesn’t guarantee that we’ll never suffer from disease or illness at some stage in our lives, but if, for example, your genetics and current lifestyle mean your risk is 9/10, you can reduce this risk down to 3/10 or 4/10 potentially. (This number will obviously vary due to a range of factors.)
As more and more studies are carried out, the evidence is becoming increasingly clear that exercise helps to prevent many diseases and it’s impact can help alleviate some of the implications which arise from disease.