Exercise Can Help Protect You From Many Diseases – Here’s How!

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?

 

Arthritis

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:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Jogging
  • Weight training

Cancer

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. 

Depression

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. 

 

Hypertension

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.

Both aerobic exercise and weight training can positively impact your blood pressure but it’s important to do them regularly and to start slowly, gradually building up intensity.

 

Obesity

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.

 

Osteoporosis

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

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
  • strength
  • bladder and bowel function
  • fatigue
  • mood
  • cognitive function
  • bone density
  • flexibility

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.

Need help in getting started?
Want a personalised exercise and nutrition programme which will help you avoid the conditions mentioned above?
You can contact me HERE. I’d love to chat with you and discuss how I can help.

5 Essential Exercises to Help Older People Maintain Independence

As we get older we lose muscle mass and strength. We also lose bone density meaning falls and knocks can become much more serious and more difficult to recover from. This is why many older people are turning to resistance exercise to help prevent muscle tissue break down, maintain strength and improve their balance and joint mobility.

Some of the many benefits of strength training for older people particularly include:

There are a catalogue of great exercises that you can choose from but I’ve selected the following exercises because they target all the key areas, provide balance training, movement correction and can be adapted to make them appropriate for various levels of abilities.

1 Glute Bridges

The hips can become massively problematic as we age. They tend to become tighter and weaker which leads to all sorts of aches, pains and issues in other joints.

Glute Bridges are a phenomenal exercise to teach your body to rely on the glutes when you extend your hip and not just your lower back or hamstrings. The ability to move at your hips while keeping your spine rigid is imperative for preventing unnecessary pressure on the lower back.

How do do it:

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your arms by your side.
  • At the bottom of the movement, your knees will form a 90-degree angle, and your hips will form a 130-140-degree angle.
  • Push through your heels, and raise your hips as high as possible without arching your lower back, feeling the movement mostly in the glutes.
  • At the top of the movement, your hips will form a straight line from the knees to the shoulders.
  • Perform 3 sets of 15-20 reps to get you started.

2 Step Ups

Stepping up and down off a high step is a skill that deteriorates as we progress through life. This is due to a combination of muscle strength deterioration, loss of balance, and coordination. This typically results in compensation by over using the calves, arms and momentum, instead of the correct muscles.

It’s an important skill to learn or relearn for older people in order to navigate stairs and uneven surfaces safely and unaided.

How do do it:

  • Stand about 6 inches from the box or bench.
  • Step up with your entire foot on the bench or box not just your toes (14 inch – 20 inch height is usually appropriate for the box or bench. It should reach just below your knee cap)
  • Avoid leaning too far forward as you ascend.
  • Try to use the working leg as much as possible and avoid using too much spring from your back leg.
  • Return to the starting position in a slow, controlled way and avoid dropping without onto the floor.
  • Avoid both feet touching the box at the top as this can allow “cheating” later on in the set by only completing 3/4 of the movement on the front leg.
  • Aim for about 8-10 reps on each leg, 3 sets.

3 Dumbbell Rows

The shoulders are another area which can become an issue as we get older. A common trend is for the muscles in the back half of our bodies to become weaker and generally underused. This has a significant knock on effect for your shoulder mobility, overall posture and it’s important to address this.

When you perform this exercise it’s important to avoid using momentum. Instead, use your back muscles. Position your standing leg to ensure your hips are level and your torso is facing the floor.

How do do it:

  • Put your left knee on the bench, lean forward, support yourself with your left hand.
  • Position your right foot on the floor, grasp the dumbbell from the floor with your right hand (palm facing in). Brace your core and lift it off the ground to put tension on the back muscles.
  • Pull the dumbbell up your side by bending at the elbow until it reaches your ribs.
  • Lower the weight down until your arm is fully stretched.
  • Repeat for reps on both sides.
  • Aim for about 3 sets with 10-15 reps on each arm.

4 Squats

Squatting is one of the most useful movements we can perform as humans and it’s incredibly important to practice them regularly. As the old saying goes – “use it or lose it.”

Squats are as old as man himself. It’s an important movement pattern to maintain or reclaim if you’ve lost it. It’s crucial that you learn to distribute the weight between your hips, knees and ankles in order to maintain healthy joints.

How do do it:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Where you point your toes depends upon where you feel most comfortable. Most people have a 30-degree angle.
  • Stand tall, grip the ground with your feet, especially your big toe, little toe and heel.
  • Hinge SLIGHTLY at the hips and descend by bending your knees.
  • Maintain your bodyweight through the middle of your feet. DON’T LET YOUR HEELS COME OFF THE GROUND!
  • Try to push your knees forward and get as low as you can without your back bending or your torso hinging over too far.
  • Come back up again and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Perform 3 sets with about 10-20 reps depending on your level of ability.

5 Hip Hinges / Deadlifts

It’s important to maintain strength in the posterior chain, especially as we get on in years. One of the most practical movements to strengthen this area are Hip Hinges or Deadlifts as they’re commonly known. A faulty or weak hip hinge movement pattern can cause all sorts of problems, including one of the most common ones – lower back aches.

There are numerous varieties of Hip Hinge / Deadlift which can be selected depending on your injury history, body mechanics, skill and confidence. No matter what type of deadlift is selected, the hamstrings, glutes, lower back muscles (erector spinae) lats, traps, rear delts and rhomboids will all be working to one degree or another.

The technique below is using a barbell. The weight will be dictated by your own level of skill, experience and strength.

How do do it:

  • Begin by standing with a narrow stance and your feet pointed ahead.
  • Ensure the barbell is over the middle of your feet.
  • Brace your core and grip the barbell just outside knee width.
  • Your shoulders should be higher than your hips and your hips should be higher than your knees.
  • Ensure your head is in line with your neck and your neck in line with your spine.
  • Engage your hamstrings, ensure your back is straight and push through your feet.
  • Try to keep the bar close to your body. It should look like a straight line from the side view.
  • When you reach the top, squeeze your glutes and bring your shoulder over the top of your hips.
  • Begin to lower the bar by pushing your hips back slightly, using your hamstrings like the brakes on a car.
  • As the bar passes your knees, bend your knees more until the plates reach the ground.
  • Keep the weight heavy enough to feel the need for all the technique, but light enough to allow you to practice it safely.
  • Aim for about 10-15 reps and 3 sets.

If you’re over 50 and you know you need to do something to maintain strength and independence as you get older, then you should definitely incorporate these exercises into your regular regime. Adjust them, adapt them and make them work for you and your anatomy.

Before completing any new exercise routine you should check with your doctor or physio. If you aren’t sure whether you’re ready or not you could complete this PAR-Q form here to check.

Macro Meals, Meal Plans – Are They The Answer?

A new thriving area of fitness and nutrition has been the emergence of low calorie Meal Plans.

 
Are they a fad? 

Do they “work”? 

Are they worth the money?

Should you be taking them?

Over the last few years as Meal Plans have become more popularised I’ve had numerous questions about them from clients and many others. I have been reluctant to comment too much as;

1) I hadn’t looked into them enough (until now)

2) I realise not every meal planning company is the same so it’s important not to assess all of them as one.


DISCLAIMER: I’m all about solving problems as a fitness professional. I wake up every day trying to think of ways to help solve the issues my clients have. I’m also a massive fan of small businesses and entrepreneurial ingenuity so by commenting on Meal Plans it’s not my intention to discredit or harm anyone’s business. However my main intention is to enable you to solve your fitness and nutrition problems LONG TERM.

Here are some thoughts and concerns with Meal Plans currently.


1) An extreme reduction in calories causes metabolic adaptation which reduces your body’s ability to burn calories at rest.

If you’re in an extreme calorie deficit for a long time, your metabolism can begin to slow up. Your body cares about your survival, so it will take measures to make sure you don’t starve to death. This could happen on meal plans because they don’t consider your individual calorie needs. For example if you’re relying on 800 calories from your lunch and dinner meal plans this is isn’t anywhere near enough for the vast majority of the population, (unless you’re elderly, physically disabled or a child).

2) Buying meal plans teaches you nothing.
It’s a bit like going to a restaurant for a nice meal. You enjoy a lovely meal while you’re at the restaurant, but you learnt little or nothing about how to do it for yourself in the future. This essentially means you have to keep getting meal plans in order to continue your weight management or else you’ll inevitably start putting on excess weight again. Unless you learn and adopt healthy habits yourself you will have no skills or a change of mindset to sustain your success long term.

3) One size CANNOT possibly fit all.
I was very concerned to learn that one meal plan company I came across provided meals with the same amount of calories for a 120 kg man as a 60kg woman. You might argue that it’s up to each person to decide for themselves what they need to eat, but it is still very misleading. 800 calories for lunch and dinner is simply not enough for most people, never mind heavier individuals or those who are more active.

4) Meal Plans can be a helpful kick start but can encourage laziness and bad habits.
I’ve seen some great things happen in the short term when someone starts meal plans. They inevitably begin to lose weight at the start due to the reduction in their calorie intake from their main meals each day. However, it often grinds to a sudden and sharp halt. Why is this? There are numerous possibilities:

  • Metabolic adaptation (as discussed above)
  • Calorie needs change as your body composition changes
  • If core habits haven’t changed, then meals plans only get you so far
  • When you haven’t got meal plans you still make poor choices
  • It might be liquid calories (eg, alcohol) that are your problem rather than food choices

5) Meal Plans can be a great option once in a while if you’re in a rush.

If you’re under pressure or haven’t had time to prepare and cook your own meals, Meal Plans can be a great, quick, nutritious option instead of opting for a takeaway or oven pizza.

6) Meal Plans usually provide a decent amount of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

One of the great points about most Meal Plans is they usually provide a decent amount of essential nutrients. These are all important not just for weight management but also optimal health.

It’s Up To You

Maybe you’ve thought about all the above before yourself. Maybe you share some of my concerns or maybe you disagree entirely. That’s cool. It really is up to you. Hopefully this has provided you with some thoughts to make better informed decisions and be aware of the potential issues with Meal Plans. Rather than simply saying “meal plans are bad” or “meal plans are good,” it seems much more sensible to be able to critically evaluate them for yourself and see how you can use them if necessary, rather than becoming a slave to them or putting your full trust in them for your long term weight management success.

Cross Functional Fitness and many other reliable fitness and nutrition organisations recognise the need for education, coaching and habit building in order to help you make informed food choices and assume control of your own nutrition habits for life.

If you’re like to join many others who have been successful in losing inches from their waist, you can do so by applying below.