How to Avoid Chronic Disease with Regular Physical Activity
This article was written by Domeryne Pascua, MAG, SPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, class of 2022, Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy, Inc.
What does “Chronic Disease” mean?
Chronic diseases are broadly defined as any medical condition that lasts for at least a full year that requires ongoing medical intervention and/or negatively impacts activities of daily living.
Many of these chronic diseases are the leading causes of death in the United States. Three of the most common are:
- Heart disease
Other examples of chronic diseases include COPD, kidney disease, asthma, arthritis, chronic lung disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have at least two or more diseases.
Physical Activity Prevents Chronic Disease
Increased physical activity can help preserve bone and joint health, which is essential with increasing age. Regular physical activity has also been shown to help with improved sleep outcomes and increased blood perfusion. Both play an integral role with tissue healing. Tissue healing often definitely affects an individual that may be dealing with sensation deficits or wounds secondary to diabetic neuropathy.
Health benefits associated with regular physical activity are as follows.
- Improved sleep
- Lowered risk of diabetes
- Decreased risk of cancers
- Improved cognition
- Reduced risk of dementia
- Improved physical function
- Lowered risk of a fall and fall-related injuries
- Lowered risks of all-cause mortality
Physical Therapists Approach Avoiding Chronic Disease With Regular Physical Activity
Physical therapy and regular physical activity have been found to be extremely beneficial for chronic disease management. Most chronic diseases have been linked directly to an individual’s lifestyle choices. This means there is an inverse relationship between decreased risk for chronic disease with increased physical activity and vice versa.
Physical therapists are skilled in creating multicomponent physical activity programs that commonly include four areas of focus.
- Strength training
- Balance training
- Coordination training
- Agility training
Brain health and function can also be positively affected with regular physical activity.
With regular physical activity, improvements in long-term anxiety and cognitive function can occur even as immediately as after a session of physical activity. Research studies have also demonstrated that regular physical activity can prevent decline in bone density. Increased bone density can help lessen the risk for fall-related injuries like hip fractures.
When individuals take charge of their conditions and health, changes are made. This is no different when it comes to finding ways to avoid chronic disease.
Benefits of Physical Therapy and Physical Activity
Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health, fitness, and quality of life. It also helps reduce your risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many types of cancer, depression and anxiety, and dementia. Since three of these conditions (heart disease, cancer, and diabetes) are some of the most commonly diagnosed chronic diseases, reducing the risk of developing them is essential.
There are several different types of physical activities people can participate in. Physical therapists focus on two different areas when it comes to helping patients avoid chronic disease – or manage the symptoms of those already diagnosed. What are they?
- Cardio and aerobics
- Muscle strengthening
Each type of exercise helps a little differently, and understanding why and how this is the case is essential to overall success.
Cardio or aerobic exercises get you breathing harder and your heart beating faster.
These moderate to vigorous activities can be intense, and every minute counts. It’s best to do short intervals of intense activity that really get your heart pumping.
Cardio & Aerobic Activities:
- Brisk walking
- Yard work
Muscle strengthening exercises are best when you can work all of the body’s major muscle groups.
These include legs, hips, back, chest, abs, shoulders and arms.
Muscle Strengthening Activities:
- Free weights
- Elastic bands
Everyone will benefit from physical activity. It doesn’t matter your age, sex, race or ethnicity, health condition, shape or size. There are different “levels” of each type of activity, meaning that no matter your overall health, the exercises can be modified to meet your needs.
Adults should aim to participate in 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity each week. In addition, incorporate muscle strengthening at least twice a week.
Fitting regular physical activity into your schedule may seem hard a first. However, you can reach your goals through different types and amounts of physical activity each week. It’s possible to work through this on your own, but seeking out advice and instruction from physical therapists is recommended. This ensures that not only are you choosing activities that make sense for you, but that you do them properly, too.
Tips to Get and Stay Active – Even While Social Distancing
The COVID-19 pandemic’s presence has changed many aspects of daily life. Routines are thrown off, lifestyles have been modified, and day-to-day tasks aren’t done the same way. But these changes don’t mean that your physical health should suffer.
There are plenty of ways that you can get and stay active, which in turn help you to avoid chronic disease – or to manage your pain levels. The first step for those already diagnosed is to talk to your doctor or physical therapist, but from there? The possibilities are extensive.
- Get the support of your friends and family and invite them to get active with you!
- Start slowly and add time, frequency, or intensity every week
- Plan ahead. Make physical activity part of your daily or weekly schedule
- Schedule physical activity for times in the day or week when you’re most energetic
- Walk instead of drive to nearby destinations, or park the car farther way and fit in a walk to your destination
- Support improvements in your neighborhood that make is easier to walk or bike to where you want to go
Stay Physically Active While Social Distancing
Getting physical can be challenging while staying at home. However, it’s possible (and important) to be physically active while social distancing.
The CDC recommends finding ways to fit physical activity in even while staying apart from others. Physical activity reduces blood pressure and anxiety and helps you sleep better. It can also help to improve mood and energy level.
Regardless of your age, some physical activity is better than none. Visit the CDC website to learn about some ideas for staying active close to home. Being socially distant doesn’t mean being alone – or letting your health suffer.
In addition to regular physical activity, be sure to consider the following lifestyle modifications to support healthy living for the long term. Exercise is helpful, but it will accomplish more if you pair the activities with other changes, too.
Diet and Nutrition Play a Part in Avoiding Chronic Disease, Too
Nutrition also plays a crucial role in preventing heart disease. You can lower your risk simply by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Other solutions include cutting back on some dietary items. What to avoid?
- Saturated fats
- Processed sugars
Adding in “healthier” foods makes you feel better, and gives you more lasting energy, too.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
The more body fat you have and the more you weigh, the more likely your chances of developing a number of issues including heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 represents a healthy weight. Before making the “recommended” numbers your goal, consult with a medical expert and find out what your specific numbers are. This ensures you aren’t going overboard, and are aiming for a healthy, safe weight.
Avoid Chronic Disease by Managing Stress
Chronic stress often contributes to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risks. Exercise is a great way to help manage stress, but see your physician for other treatment options. Since different parts of life cause stress in different ways, finding methods to target your stressors is essential.
This is a no-brainer. If you smoke, you simply must quit.
Cigarettes are unhealthy, and along with increasing health risks, using them comes with many other irritating side effects. Eliminating them outright – or decreasing tobacco use over time to start – are vital to your health.
Modify Your Lifestyle to Help Avoid Chronic Disease
One great article outlines ways to modify different types of exercise so that they can be done no matter where you are. Exercise doesn’t mean going to a gym or using expensive, overwhelming equipment.
But in order to get the most out of your daily life, you need to remember to move. Find ways to do this, even in small bursts, and you’ll find ways to get healthier and feel better overall. Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with one or more chronic diseases, you have options.
This is where speaking with a physical therapist becomes important.
It’s difficult to make lasting changes in your life and in your routine – no one disputes that. But this becomes easier when you have help and support from those that understand the science behind making them. Physical therapists are these experts.
Find a Physical Therapist to Help You Avoid Chronic Disease
There are plenty of physical therapy practices and options across the country, but what is the right one?
Only you can decide this, so start looking today. Consider using the BetterPT clinic location tool, or downloading the app. These options put you into contact with local practices and facilities that specialize in helping people like you improve your health.
One such clinic is Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy, but there are plenty of others available, too. During your consultation, a physical therapist will assess the source of your limitations or discomforts and provide a path toward leading a more active and healthful life.
Sometimes, this means in-clinic appointments and sessions. Other times, virtual physical therapy through a Telehealth platform like BetterTelehealth is a better option. No matter what you choose, know that by incorporating a physical therapy professional, you’re increasing your chances of avoiding chronic disease with each passing day.
Don’t let pain, disability or discomfort from an existing condition – or one that seems likely to develop based on daily habits – keep you from living your life.
Physical therapy professionals are here to help – so utilize their skills!
Domeryne Pascua is a second year student in the USC doctorate of physical therapy program. She is currently working on her internship at Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, CA. She has a strong interest and places an emphasis on the importance of movement therapy with the geriatric population and incorporating aquatics in an outpatient setting.