Why staying active helps manage chronic diseases

Here’s a fact that should get your attention: Chronic diseases, conditions that are ongoing and generally not curable, are why most Americans will develop a disability and eventually die from it. At least half of Americans suffer from at least one chronic illness, such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, arthritis, and heart disease. 

While it’s easy to want to give up when diagnosed with a chronic disease, don’t.  There are always lifestyle habits to adopt, helping lower your risk of complications and even your risk of developing a chronic disease in the first place. One essential practice to highly consider is keeping physically fit. 

Before beginning an exercise routine, get your doctor’s approval first if you already have a chronic disease.  Chances are they will wholeheartedly want you to keep active and moving. Having a chronic illness usually means it’s more important than ever to stretch, walk, and simply move in any way you can.  In addition, your body wants you to be fit no matter what illness you may have.

How staying active benefits a chronic illness

When your doctor gives you the go-ahead to safely engage in physical activity on a routine basis, the benefits of keeping active can pay off in many ways:

  • Weight control
  • Reduced risk of developing other diseases 
  • Helps reduce symptoms of your chronic disease or slow down its progression 
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Improvement in mental health and mood
  • Prevention of falls and stiffening of muscles
  • Improvement in energy levels
  • Enhances your immune functioning helping you stay healthier 
  • Preservation of your lifestyle

Though exercise cannot cure your condition, it can significantly improve your quality of life. In most situations, the benefits far outweigh the risks of getting hurt while moving and stretching, and your physician can help determine this. A safe activity level will depend on your health, your illness or disease, and your abilities. Even if you feel you are limited, a small amount of exercise is most likely better than no exercise.

How to begin

If you are considering or want to become more physically active, check with your doctor, informing them of your decision.  Ask them for ideas on what exercises they recommend and how to safely begin without overstraining or injuring yourself.  Starting off slowly and gradually building up over time, can prevent injury and will help you stick to your plan now and in the future. 

Some questions to ask your doctor before beginning an exercise routine include the following:

  • How can exercise improve my chronic condition?
  • What exercises are safe for me?
  • How often and how much should I exercise?
  • At what level of intensity should I exercise?
  • What goals are realistic for me to set?
  • Should I take any special steps to get started?
  • What else do I need to know?
  • Are there any exercise I shouldn’t be doing?
  • Is there a trainer or professional you can recommend to help me get active?

Much of what determines what type of activity to choose is based on your chronic illness. For instance, if you have joint issues, you may need to choose a low-impact activity such as walking or swimming. Or if you have asthma, you may want to do short bursts of exercise, resting in between.  These are precisely the ways your doctor can help you find appropriate activities. 

Tips helping you stick to your plan

Once you’ve started an exercise routine, the hard part can be getting started and sticking to it.  Here are some tips that may help:

  • Start slow – Pick one goal at a time and make them achievable. For example, if you want to start walking, your plan might be, “I will walk three times around my block each week for the next three weeks.”  Once you have met that goal, you can readjust as you improve.
  • Set a realistic goal – Sometimes, simply adding in doing some yardwork or extra housework may be what to start with to get you moving. For anyone who is severely ill, your goal might be to improve flexibility with some armchair stretches
  • Find your motivation – Are you getting active to improve your mood, keep up with your kids or grandkids, or improve your quality of life? Whatever it is, write it down and use it to keep you motivated.
  • Get an exercise buddy – Walking around the block with a neighbor may help sustain your activity.  Meeting friends for a yoga class can keep you committed.
  • Frequencies over duration – Instead of making a goal to exercise for a long length of time, choose instead to move frequently throughout the day.  Avoid periods of time without moving. Build activity into your day. For instance, use the stairs as often as possible, sweep the floor or your front porch, and walk around while talking on the phone.  
  • Find things you like to do and switch it up – Prevent exercise boredom by having a least a couple of different physical activities you enjoy. For example, if you always walk around the block, try swimming or attending yoga or strength-training classes for a few weeks instead. Or turn on some music and start dancing. 
  • Take advantage of resources – Use them if you have access to a gym at work or near your home, or if you have any kind of wellness program available to you.  In addition, support from outside sources can keep you going.
  • Don’t give up – Even if you do fall out of exercising routinely, get back into a routine as soon as possible. You can always start anew by making exercise a regular part of your life.


Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911. 

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