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Fitness and Health

Fitness and health go hand in hand, and this section of our health library is devoted to exploring the relationship between these two very important aspects of life.

16 Diseases That Can Be Prevented with Regular Exercise

Did you know many health conditions can be prevented or managed with a proper exercise regimen? Learn about optimal physical health and how exercise can help here!

16 Diseases That Can Be Prevented with Regular Exercise


"You cannot out-exercise a bad diet," so the saying goes. While this is true, many chronic health conditions can be prevented or at least managed with the proper exercise regimen.

Chronic disease runs rampant in America and it is more important than ever to focus on disease prevention to reduce the burdens of disease management.

Learn about optimal physical health and how exercise can help achieve this state in this article!

Physical Health Definition

Physical and mental health are the most frequently referenced types of health although many more such as spiritual, relational, and financial also exist. Physical health refers to how well the body's systems function on their own and as a whole.

In broad terms, optimal metabolism- the biological and chemical processes that occur within a living organism to sustain life- epitomizes physical health. And in more specific terms, physical health refers to maintaining good health markers such as heart, brain, and lung function, a healthy weight and body fat percentage, an appropriate amount of muscle tissue, strong bones, and overall organ and systemic function.

However, Medical News Today extends the definition further to include minimizing potentially injurious hazards, practicing safe intercourse and effective hygiene, avoiding tobacco and illegal drugs, minimizing alcohol, obtaining specific vaccines, and seeking medical help when necessary.

What's more, and because physical health is the widest sector of health, achieving well-balanced mental, emotional, financial, spiritual, and relational health leads to better physical health. Think of the body as a collaborative factory that requires all of its parts and divisions to work together to achieve equilibrium or good health.

Factors of Good Health

With that being said, a variety of factors can lead to good or poor health. Most are controllable, but some are not.

The major uncontrollable factor includes genetics or the genes one inherits. Unusual genetic patterns determined by polymorphisms can negatively affect health no matter how healthy one's lifestyle is. Moreover, some people will inherently be at higher risk of certain diseases due to genetics, but this is not a definitive sentence and as will be discussed soon, many diseases are preventable through healthy lifestyle practices.

Other factors such as income, employment status, level of education, where one lives, one's access to food, and various other social determinants are not completely controllable but certainly affect health status as well.

However, many determinants of good health are within control and these are frequently referred to as environmental factors. The literal environment (air quality, temperature, etc.) can affect health, but environmental factors usually refer to lifestyle choices like smoking tobacco, using drugs and alcohol, taking medications properly, diet and supplement regimens, stress management, and of course, exercise.

To attain optimal physical health, focus on the controllable factors like a balanced diet and exercise first, and then work on managing the less controllable ones like a place of residence, relationships, and other social considerations. Professionals like doctors, dietitians, therapists, and social workers can help optimize these less controllable circumstances.

16 Diseases That Can Be Prevented with Regular Exercise

Based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Heart Association recommends adults achieve 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity per week to maintain health and prevent chronic disease.

Undeniably, scientific research shows a massive connection between physical activity and overall health and well-being, disease prevention, and quality of life.

Thus, here are a variety of diseases and disorders that can be prevented through regular exercise:

1. Heart Disease & Related Conditions like High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol

Cardiovascular exercise such as running, walking, swimming, biking, and some forms of HIIT require the heart to pump and work hard. This preserves heart function and promotes a healthy weight, which is a leading determinant of the aforementioned conditions.

2. Stroke

Chronically elevated blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Also because regular exercise maintains healthy blood pressure levels, it reduces the risk of having a stroke.

People who have already had a stroke can still reduce their risk of another by exercising. However, consult with a professional to determine safe amounts and intensities.

3. Type 2 Diabetes

Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, or less insulin is required to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. Insulin resistance (less sensitivity) is implicated in the development of many chronic diseases.

Therefore, engaging in moderate to high-intensity exercises such as cardio, strength training, and HIIT is highly beneficial.

4. Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

Exercise burns energy from carbohydrates and fat, thus, discouraging the storage of energy as fat. Alongside a nutritionally adequate diet, exercise is one of the best ways to avoid metabolic syndrome (a conglomeration of pre-diseased states) and obesity.

Incorporate 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 to 4 times a week. Also, include 20 to 60 minutes of strength training 2 to 3 times a week.

5. Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

Osteopenia and osteoporosis involve weakness of the bones and thus, muscle to some extent. Although somewhat counterintuitive, regular weight-bearing exercise is the single best way to prevent loss of bone mass.

Focus on targeted strength training for best results. Incorporating activities like walking or jogging can also help preserve bone.

6. Dementia and Alzheimer's

According to the Alzheimer's Society, a meta-analysis concluded that regular exercise can significantly reduce risk of dementia by 30 percent and Alzheimer's by 45 percent. Another study assessed several lifestyle behaviors including exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake, healthy body weight, and diet and determined that exercise had the greatest impact of reducing risk for dementia/Alzheimer's.

Exercise is hypothesized to be protective of brain health because it helps maintain old neural pathways as well as initiate new ones.

7. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Even dependent on weight loss, research reveals that exercise can prevent sleep apnea by increasing upper airway dilator muscle tone and thoracic respiratory muscles. Both play a major role in autonomic breathing and decreasing fluid accumulation in the neck and systemic inflammatory responses.

Major benefits of exercise upon obstructive sleep apnea include reduced severity of the condition and daytime sleepiness and increased sleep efficiency and maximum oxygen consumption.

Reduced Risk

Other diseases are not totally preventable no matter how healthfully one lives, but the risk of development can be reduced substantially through regular exercise. These include:

8-13. Certain Forms of Cancers (Colon, Breast, Uterine, Lung, Pancreatic, Liver)

Although more research is warranted related to the complexity of cancer, it is proposed that regular exercise can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

This reduction may be partly due to a controlled weight, maintained hormone levels, balanced insulin and blood sugar, strengthened immune system, and increased quality of life.

14. Depression

Consistent exercise has been shown to effectively help treat depression. It can also be utilized to proactively prevent it or at least, reduce the severity of the experience.

Interestingly, most studies analyzing the link between physical activity and depression determined that low levels of exercise are linked to elevated instances of depression. The association is also bidirectional, meaning regular activity reduces risk or instances of depression.

15. Arthritis

Some people are born with arthritis, and while such a factor is unpreventable, exercise can certainly help manage arthritic symptoms. Nonetheless, arthritis is a joint disorder that can develop due to poor lifestyle habits.

Opportunely, regular exercise can help prevent it by keeping muscles surrounding joints strong. It can also decrease bone loss and control joint and swelling pain to some extent.

16. Asthma

Similar to osteopenia and osteoporosis mentioned above, it may seem illogical that exercise, an acute lung stressor, can prevent asthma. And, in fact, exercise-induced asthma is triggered by intense physical activity and requires close monitoring.

However, consistent exercise helps increase lung capacity and function, reduce lung inflammation, and reduces resistance to breathing. As with tearing muscles through exercise, acute stress to the lungs allows them to build and repair even better.

The Bottom Line

Consistent exercise can literally prevent or greatly reduce the risk of developing at least 16 chronic diseases and disorders and this is not an exhaustive list! Moderate to intense physical activity on most days of the week for 20 to 60 minutes confers so many physical health benefits, no wonder why it is utilized in nearly every health care promotion program or protocol.

Incorporating an appropriate mix of cardiovascular and strength training throughout the week will optimize physical health in monumental ways and people tend to appreciate the positive body composition aesthetics that frequently accompany it as well.

References:

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. www.heart.org. http://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults.

Cristol H. Exercise Linked With Lower Risk of 13 Types of Cancer. American Cancer Society. Published May 17, 2016. http://www.cancer.org/latest-news/exercise-linked-with-lower-risk-of-13-types-of-cancer.html

Exercise Preventing Asthma? on MedicineNet.com. MedicineNet. http://www.medicinenet.com/exercise_preventing_asthma/views.htm. Published June 13, 2018.

Role of Exercise in Arthritis Management. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Published January 18, 2018.http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/role-of-exercise-in-arthritis-management/

What is health?: Defining and preserving good health. Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/150999.

What you need to know about exercise and chronic disease. Mayo Clinic. Published November 11, 2020. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on March 10, 2021. Updated on August 13, 2021.

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