The US public spends billions of dollars per year in the management of a wide variety of common diseases. While medications can and do help people with these conditions, many of the symptoms and circumstances can be helped with exercise. Exercising has many benefits, and one is to possibly reduce the amount of medications you take.
Three Main Types Of Exercise To Improve Medical Problems
- Aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate and respiratory rate. It includes activities like brisk walking, swimming, aerobics, cycling, and running.
- Anaerobic exercise. Includes things like weight lifting and using weight machines to tone and increase muscle mass.
- Mind-body Exercises. Mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong have both aerobic and anaerobic properties and are good exercises to undergo when you aren’t particularly fit or need a much more low impact type of workout.
The following medical conditions can often be treated with medications and or exercise and some diseases can be prevented by exercise. Regular physical activity can work along with the meds and sometimes exercise can either replace or reduce the medication. Even if you are only able to reduce the medication, you are likely to feel much better with more exercise and less drugs.
Medical Conditions That Are Helped With Exercise
Please note that you should always consult your physician before starting any exercise program or discontinuing any medication.
Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain can affect any part of your back but primarily affects the lower back. It can be caused by normal wear and tear on the spine and joints, from an acute injury that doesn’t heal very well, standing on your feet all day, or working at a computer for hours at the time.
These can all lead to painful chronic back pain that often is poorly treated using medications, especially over the counter drugs. In many cases exercise can effectively control low back pain by strengthening the muscles that protect the vertebrae of the back. Exercise, along with a good foam roller, can also decrease spasm in the muscles and can increase the flexibility of the tendons and ligaments of the low back.
The best type of exercise for the low back is anaerobic exercise, although aerobic exercise can also help. When doing anaerobic exercise, you can use yoga or weight machines to make the back stronger and more flexible. This can effectively decrease the perception of chronic back pain.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is defined as having a systolic blood pressure of greater than 140 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure of greater than 90 mm Hg. High blood pressure can cause strokes, heart attacks, and kidney damage, all of which can cause an early and untimely death.
There are dozens of medications out there we depend on to treat high blood pressure, and like all prescription drugs, they come with their share of side effects. If you are taking blood pressure meds, exercise can do two things for you. First of all, regular physical activity can help reduce your BP, and second exercise will definitely make you feel better. In fact, if your medications are dragging your down, exercising for 30-60 minutes 3-5 times a week can make you feel like a new person.
Aerobic exercise is the best type of exercise for high blood pressure and includes walking, running, cycling, aerobics, fitness classes and swimming just to name a few. If you haven’t been exercising, I suggest starting out with walking. You can walk at parks, in your neighborhood, or even in malls.
While doing the exercise itself, your blood pressure will increase but, over time, it results in an overall lower blood pressure both while exercising and at rest. Aerobic exercise can also decrease a person’s weight, which also acts to decrease blood pressure.
High cholesterol is defined as having a total cholesterol of more than 250 mg/dL. High cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries.” This, in turn, leads to diseases like heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.
There are medications available for the treatment of high cholesterol but many have untoward side effects. Statins, the most common types of anti-cholesterol drugs, can cause liver disease and myopathy, in which the muscles tend to ache, particularly in the legs. Depending on how high your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are, and your heriditary disposition, you could lower the levels by working out several times a week.
Exercise plays a couple of roles in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, and one of them is simply by lowering your appetite and weight. Any cardiovascular exercise is aerobic and builds a strong cardiovascular system. Discover how easy it is to get your cardio at home on your own equipment.
Aerobic exercise is the best type of exercise for weight loss and to decrease cholesterol levels. This means engaging in activity that elevates your heart rate for thirty minutes or more per day on most days of the week (4-5 days out of the week). The exercise doesn’t immediately reduce cholesterol levels but, as you begin to lose weight, the cholesterol levels will begin to fall.
Type II Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes happens when the cells of the body become resistant to insulin. When insulin cannot be utilized to put glucose into the cells, the end result is high circulating levels of glucose, which results in complications like eye disease, nerve disease, heart disease, and kidney disease.
There are medications available to treat type 2 diabetes but many are extremely expensive, have side effects, and can result in abnormally low blood sugars if taken in excess. Fortunately, exercise can treat type 2 diabetes with weight loss.
The exercises that work the best for type 2 diabetes include aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, swimming, and running. They all have weight loss in common.
When you do aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week as recommended by the American Diabetic Association, you can lose weight and will have a natural reduction in blood sugar. You burn calories and use glucose during exercise and the effect of losing weight is long-lasting reductions in blood sugar.
Heart disease can also be improved through exercise. Heart disease can involve having high blood pressure, a heart attack, a stroke, or peripheral vascular disease. All of these diseases have in common the narrowing of the arteries leading to key areas of the body. When the blood vessels narrow, the oxygenation to these key areas of the body decreases and the end result is cell death and heart disease.
There are medications that some people take for heart disease. Medications for heart disease include medications for enhancing the strength of the heart, medications for blood pressure, and medications for lowering the cholesterol level. Blood thinners can also be used to treat certain types of heart disease.
Fortunately, exercise can enhance medications for heart disease by strengthening your entire circulatory system. The best exercise prescription for heart disease is plenty of aerobic exercises. This means getting thirty minutes of exercise per day doing things like brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling. These strengthen the heart and lower blood pressure, which makes heart disease better.
Heart disease isn’t necessarily a symptom of being overweight, but weighing too much always aggravates the problem. Any exercise you can do that will decrease your weight will effectively help heart disease. The reduction in weight can decrease the stress in the heart and will lower both blood sugar and blood pressure—both things that make heart disease worse.
If you have heart disease and want to exercise, you should have an exercise stress test to make sure that your heart is strong enough to exercise. Start slowly and work your way up to more strenuous exercises. Speak with your physician before you start.
Arthritis can be inflammatory, such as is seen in autoimmune arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, etc.) or osteoarthritis, which involves wear and tear on the joints. While it seems that exercise would make arthritis worse, it actually has a positive effect on the perception of pain and reduces pain seen in arthritis.
While there are medications available for the treatment of arthritis, many are hard on the stomach or have side effects that limit their use. Arthritis medicines can be expensive and, if you need to take biologic medications for arthritis, they can negatively affect your risk for infections because they decrease the effectiveness of the immune system.
Both anaerobic and aerobic exercises are good for arthritis, regardless of the type of arthritis you have. You need to start slow with any exercise program you use for arthritis, choosing non-weight-bearing exercises that don’t put added stress on the joints.
Exercises that are particularly good for arthritis include qi gong, yoga, and Tai Chi. They are all non-weight-bearing exercises and reduce stress. They enhance flexibility and balance and do not put too much stress on the joints. They are a blend of aerobic and anaerobic exercises so they strengthen the muscles and decrease the perception of pain. Even if your knees are weak, knee sleeves can help arthritis, and help you with stability and endurance.
There are also plenty of chair exercises that can help arthritis sufferers. Again, you need to start slow and work your way up to more strenuous exercises when you have arthritis and are using exercise to treat it.
Osteoporosis is thinning of the bones that occurs when people don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets, and when they don’t exercise. The thinning of the bones can be so severe that the individual can fall and easily break a hip, spinal bone, or wrist.
There are medications that women or men can take to treat osteoporosis but these are extremely expensive and have serious side effects. Some are taken orally, while others require painful injections in order to prevent further bone loss. Most of the medications used for osteoporosis do not actually increase bone mass but instead only prevent further bone loss.
You can actually increase your bone mass by using exercise to treat your osteoporosis. The best exercises you can do involve those that are weight-bearing. This includes things like stair-stepping, running, or brisk walking. Anaerobic exercise can also strengthen the bones.
These exercises put added stress on the bones so they respond by increasing their bony mass. This can decrease your risk of suffering from a bone fracture without having to take any medication at all.
Depression is a common condition and involves feelings of low mood, guilt, sadness, and sometimes suicidality. If left untreated, depression can adversely affect your everyday life in many ways and can make going to work or school is difficult.
There are medications that can be taken for depression but they all have adverse side effects and don’t always work to help depression. The most common antidepressants used are SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They are effective in treating depression but many have side effects, including adverse sexual side effects.
Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise is effective in treating depression and is just as effective as medications in many cases but without the side effects. The mental benefits of exercise are well documented. You can do any type of exercise you enjoy, as this will enhance the positive effects exercise will have on the depression.
Exercise releases many different types of neurotransmitters, including endorphins, norepinephrine, and serotonin—all of which have antidepressant properties.
When exercising to treat depression, it is a good idea to do those exercises that aren’t too strenuous and are exercises you like to do. If you like to play golf, for example, doing this on a regular basis will help lift depressive symptoms without side effects seen in taking antidepressants.
Fibromyalgia involves dealing with chronic muscle pain, joint aches, fatigue, and tender points throughout the body. While one would think that doing, exercises to treat this condition would increase the pain but actually, the opposite effect is true.
There are precious few medications out there that actually work to treat fibromyalgia. Some are antidepressant medications, while others are direct pain relievers, and still others are anticonvulsant medications. They all have side effects and often the fibromyalgia patient must take many different types of medications to have a resolution of the pain.
Gentle aerobic exercises can do a great deal to decrease the perception of pain in fibromyalgia. Things like tai chi, qi gong, and yoga are especially good for fibromyalgia sufferers because they are easy on the joints and muscles, and do not involve strenuous activity.
They decrease stress, which also has the effect of decreasing the pain of fibromyalgia. Just about any low impact exercise will increase endogenous endorphins, which are the feel-good
molecules in the body that decrease the perception of pain.
Anxiety can be a part of depression or can exist on its own. There are many psychiatric conditions that have anxiety as a component of the illness. Anxiety involves having increased feelings of mental distress, fearfulness, and agitation.
While there are medications that can be used for anxiety, many are addicting and have adverse side effects. Medications like Xanax and Ativan, for example, will temporarily manage anxiety but will cause sedation and difficulty in performing everyday tasks. They are also addictive and doctors don’t like to prescribe them for long periods of time.
It turns out that exercise can relieve anxiety without any of the side effects seen in taking medications for anxiety. About 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, a day can decrease the perception of anxiety, especially if you choose a physical activity that you enjoy.
Exercise increases the number of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain so that you feel less anxious. The best part about exercise is that the relief of anxiety lasts beyond the period of time you are actually exercising. You can exercise for a brief period of time and can have many hours of anxiety relief as a result.
As you can see, many medical conditions, from intensely physical conditions to psychological conditions, can be treated without medications and with exercise alone as a reasonable treatment. Exercise is a one-size-fits-all remedy for a great many medical conditions and it can be done by people with just about any fitness level.
The trick to making exercise work as a treatment for medical conditions is to do things that you enjoy without doing anything that is particularly strenuous. Even mild exercise such as yoga, tai chi, and gong can be used as a form of exercise to manage many different medical conditions.
If you decide to treat your medical condition with exercise, don’t stop taking your medication if your doctor has prescribed it and instead see your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise.
After you have exercised for a period of time, you just need to go back and see your doctor to see if any of the medications you are taking may be discontinued now that you are using a non- medical approach in dealing with your health.