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Exercising With Long-Term Conditions

People with long-term conditions benefit from exercise.

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Heartbeat graphic representing long-term conditions

In research related to risks and benefits of exercise, the Physical Activity Risk Consensus group, initiated by leaders from the University of Edinburgh, issued a statement that, while the benefits of physical activity for people with long-term conditions outweigh the risks, conversations that address specific risks are advised to help people overcome fears. The statement outlines eight syndrome-based statements that address specific concerns:

  • musculoskeletal pain;
  • fatigue;
  • shortness of breath;
  • cardiac chest pain;
  • palpitations;
  • dysglycemia (elevated blood sugar);
  • cognitive impairment; and
  • falls and frailty.

Recommendations to help people overcome fears include encouraging informed conversations with healthcare providers about risks; helping people to identify their own starting point for exercise and to build up gradually; explaining that some muscle pain when starting exercise is normal and will ease with adaptation; pointing out that fatigue and shortness of breath are normal with exercise; discussing that exercise benefits the heart, even for those with heart conditions; and explaining that even small improvements in strength and balance can reduce risks of falling and improve confidence in frail individuals.

Experts recommend that professionals who work with people who have long-term conditions be aware of each individual’s disease stage and specific risks while also considering their functional level, communication abilities and preferred environments for training.

The statement is open source and available in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2021; doi:10.1136/bjsports-2021-104281).

See also: Exercise Therapy and Chronic Health Conditions

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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