We all know that exercise is good for us, people who are physically active have fewer health problems, are thinner, and have improved mood compared with sedentary individuals. Exercise provides an array of health benefits such as, reduced blood pressure and lowered risk of heart disease or stroke; stronger bones and an improved immune system. Being physically active also appears to reduce the risk of dementia in older life and there’s even evidence now that some cancers such as prostate and breast are reduced in physically active people compared with the sedentary population.  The improvements in health as a result of exercise occur for a variety of reasons, a more robust immune system means we are less susceptible to infection; with stronger muscles and bone we are less likely to fall or if we do, to sustain a fracture; lowered blood pressure puts less strain on the heart, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and generally being fitter means we are more like to socialise with others, which is also good for our health. However exercise also has benefits that are less well known. Being physically active may have an anti-inflammatory effect on our bodies. That’s good news because a host of illnesses are associated with an increased inflammatory response in the body, including cardiovascular diseases and cancers. In studies of healthy older people there is evidence that endurance training and muscle strength training lead to reductions in certain markers of inflammation, this may be one mechanism by which exercise confers benefit in such a variety of health conditions.

For some people being physically active may be very difficult, the frail elderly, those with chronic heart or lung problems and those recovering from surgery. Increasingly, however, there is a body of scientific research arising from well conducted studies that shows benefits in quality of life and exercise tolerance for people with any number of long term conditions. Indeed, one of the most effective treatments for people with emphysema is now known to be pulmonary rehabilitation- a programme of exercise and education that focuses on increasing muscle strength, fitness and functional exercise tolerance. For people with emphysema exercise can indeed breathe new life into their lungs. People with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and thin bones all benefit from exercise and in some case the improvements can be remarkable. Studies investigating the benefits of exercise for survivors of breast and lung cancer are now showing positive effects particularly with respect to the very debilitating symptom of fatigue.

Of course it can be very frightening and occasionally inappropriate, to exercise if you have a long term condition. Starting exercise again after a long period of illness of surgery is very daunting, it’s also difficult to know how to exercise and in some cases adjustments may be needed to take account of your condition. That’s where the expert advice from a physiotherapist and your doctor come into play. These days there are more and more opportunities for people with long term illnesses to undertake physical activity, from gardening clubs and walking programmes, to specialised programmes run by qualified health professionals. Ask your family doctor about the opportunities for you, you might find you surprise yourself – you’ll certainly find yourself with more energy and a better outlook.

(previously published by Age concern)Age Concern Espana