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The majority of us when we are in pain will typically want to take it easy, stopping all activity that may be the least bit strenuous. While this obviously makes sense in the short term (1-2 days) to allow recovery, a prolonged absence from activity it can actually undermine the healing process. A lot of people are under the misconception that when you don’t feel well you’re supposed to just lie in bed and face the wall, when in fact studies have shown that exercise* can dramatically improve quality of life for those suffering from chronic conditions.

Back pain: Many people with low back pain have weak core muscles so performing activities that strengthen this part of your body is a good idea. Strengthening the muscles that support your back helps to repair injury by increasing blood flow and improves function in daily life by increasing strength and stamina.

Recommended activities: Walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates, cycling, tai chi, hiking and conditioning machines (e.g. stair climbers, elliptical, stationary bikes).

Arthritis: For years it was commonly thought that people with arthritis should avoid physical activity for the fear that it would further damage their joints. Now physicians are recommending that patients exercise for the many benefits it can provide for those that suffer with chronic pain. Depending on the severity of your pain, there some great activities you can do that will keep your joints from becoming too stiff, keep the muscles around your joints strong and keep the bone and cartilage tissue healthy.

Recommended activities: Swimming, cycling, walking, dancing, tai chi, yoga, skiing and conditioning machines (e.g. stair climbers, elliptical, stationary bikes).

Asthma: Although it can be tough for asthmatics to exercise, it is possible if you work with your doctor to discover what type of activity can work for you. Exercise strengthens your lung muscles, which improves lung function as well as your heart which makes you less winded with exertion.  With time, the more you exercise, the more tolerant your heart and lungs become when you exert yourself.

Recommended activities: Martial arts, yoga, cycling, walking, jogging, and weight training.

Diabetes: If you are diabetic, regular exercise is a key component to managing your condition. It can improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin and help you manage your blood glucose levels. Be sure to check blood sugar levels before and after you exercise since this can help determine how different types of activities affect you.

Recommended activities: Brisk walking, hiking, rowing, running, swimming, dancing, playing hockey and skiing.

Heart Disease: Studies consistently find that light-to-moderate exercise is beneficial for people with existing heart disease. Exercise strengthens the heart so it can pump more blood through the body and continue working at maximum level with less strain. With an increase in endurance you gain the ability to do more activities without becoming tired or short of breath. Overall, even a light amount of physical activity can boost your outlook, improve your sleep and help you feel more relaxed and healthy.

Recommended activities: Walking, swimming, cycling, golf, light household chores, dancing, and light gardening/yard work.

Physical activity has many benefits for those with chronic conditions so start small, don’t feel like you have to run a marathon your first day out. To keep yourself motivated, pick an activity that interests you and that you enjoy. Check out local clubs or ask a friend if they are interested in joining you. It always helps with motivation if you have someone to work out with and match your goals against. Be sure to keep yourself adequately hydrated, include a warm up and cool down from each bout of exercise and listen to your body for warning symptoms. Once you find what works for you, try to do as much as you can – the importance should be on getting yourself moving and hopefully have some fun while helping yourself in the process.

*This article is meant to be used for information purposes, if you know or suspect you have a chronic condition, please talk to your local health provider before starting any exercise program. Your doctor or nurse can help you find a program that matches your level of fitness and physical condition.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Bryan S, Katzmarzyk P. The Association Between Meeting Physical Activity Guidelines and Chronic Diseases Among Canadian Adults. Journal Of Physical Activity & Health. January 2011;8(1):10-17.

2. Kujala U. Physical activity, genes, and lifetime predisposition to chronic disease. European Reviews Of Aging & Physical Activity. April 2011;8(1):31-36.

3. Lobelo F, Steinacker J, Duperly J, Hutber A. Physical Activity Promotion in Health Care Settings: the “Exercise is Medicine” Global Health Initiative Perspective. Schweizerische Zeitschrift Für Sportmedizin & Sporttraumatologie. June 2014;62(2):42-45.

4. Morey M, Ekelund C, Bosworth H, et al. Project LIFE: A Partnership to Increase Physical Activity in Elders With Multiple Chronic Illnesses. Journal Of Aging & Physical Activity. July 2006;14(3):324-343.

5. Peeters G, Hockey R, Brown W. Should Physical Activity Intervention Efforts Take a Whole Population, High-Risk, or Middle Road Strategy?. Journal Of Physical Activity & Health. July 2014;11(5):966-970.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.