chronic disease prevention

Prevention not cure: Exercising to beat chronic disease

Chronic conditions are the biggest health epidemic of our generation. They are a multi-billion-dollar burden on our healthcare system, with over 7 in 10 deaths being attributed to just 8 chronic conditions nationwide. Regular exercise can not only improve your mood and general well-being, it’s also vital for chronic disease prevention.

What are chronic conditions?

The term ‘chronic disease’ refers to a broad number of complete and chronic health issues. This includes mental health, cardiovascular health, genetic disorders, trauma and disability. Chronic health conditions are often linked to multiple causes and may result in a gradual deterioration of quality life and overall health.

Approximately 50% of all Australians suffer from at least one of the 8 common chronic diseases. These are: arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and mental health conditions. Worse still, 23% of Australians have two or more! Chronic disease are placing a huge burden on our healthcare system, accounting for 47% of hospital admissions!

Whilst exercise can help to manage symptoms associated with common chronic conditions, many have no known cure. So, what can we do to minimise the disease burden in Australia?

Prevention, not cure, is the key…

Many of these conditions are preventable with the modification of risk factors. Reducing (or eliminating) things like tobacco use, high body mass, alcohol use, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol ALL play a crucial role in reducing your risk.

So let’s talk about exercise:

Exercise plays a crucial role in chronic disease prevention. Physical inactivity is the 4th largest cause of chronic conditions in Australia. Research suggests that if people were sufficiently active, it could cut the rate of many chronic diseases by as much as 40 per cent. If more people met the recommended guidelines for physical activity they could reduce their risk of:

  • Dementia by up to 30 per cent
  • Cardiovascular disease by up to 35 per cent
  • Type 2 Diabetes by up to 40 per cent
  • Colon cancer by 30 per cent
  • Breast cancer by 20 per cent

“No single intervention has greater promise than exercise to reduce the risk of virtually all chronic diseases simultaneously.”

Exercise can also help to reduce OTHER risk factors of chronic diseases. Things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high body mass can all be improved by activity. As much as 53% of diabetes burden and 45% of osteoarthritis burden are due to overweight and obesity alone!

Slight changes to your daily routine can make a big difference in reducing the impact chronic disease has on your life.

How much exercise do you need to reduce risk factors?

The Australian Guidelines recommends doing a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. We should also aim to include muscle strengthening activities at least twice each week.

Physical activity can include walking, cycling, swimming or any recreational sports such as social tennis or dancing.

Strengthening activities may include:
– Body weight exercise such as squats, lunges or push ups, at home
– Tasks around the house that include digging, lifting or carrying objects
– Weights or other resistance training conducted in a gym

It’s important to start off slow and build up the intensity and duration of exercise.

If you’re living with a chronic condition, chat to your GP and exercise physiologist before you start exercising. Accredited Exercise Physiologists specialise in prescribing safe and effective exercise solutions for those living with, or at risk of developing chronic diseases. To find one near you, click here. 

Sam Greentree - exercise physiologist

Sam Greentree is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who runs her own business.