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Exercise Treatment for Chronic Illness

Nurse Susan provides some valuable information about how exercise can help treat four chronic illnesses.

Chronic diseases are becoming more prevalent all over the world. Recent data show that chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease are the cause of more than half of the deaths that occur each year. If you are suffering from a chronic condition, it is important to know that there are lots of steps you can take to improve your symptoms and take back control of your life. In conjunction with medication and dietary and lifestyle changes, exercise is an excellent treatment option for several chronic illnesses, including the four common ones that are listed below.


Arthritis comes in several different forms, including osteoarthritis (the most common form) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune condition), and affects millions of people all over the world. No matter what kind of arthritis you suffer from, exercise can help improve your pain and loosen up your joints to make movement easier.

One of the many reasons exercise is so beneficial is the fact that it helps to strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints. When your muscles are strong, they can support the joints better to minimize pain and discomfort.

Resistance training and practicing compound movements like squats and deadlifts are beneficial for people struggling with arthritis who need to build muscle and improve their range of motion. Gentle, low-impact forms of cardiovascular exercise like walking and swimming, are also great for managing weight (which helps reduce pressure on the joints), and flexibility-based practices. Yoga and Tai Chi can be used to help improve range of motion, balance, and flexibility in people with arthritis.

When you first start using exercise to help manage your arthritis symptoms, it is important to start slowly and work with a doctor or physical therapist to make sure you are not putting too much strain on your body. Be sure to support your joints by wearing knee, ankle, or elbow braces as needed.


Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions, and it affects between three and six percent of the global population. Rather than joint pain and inflammation, which affects people with arthritis, people with fibromyalgia struggle with pain in their soft tissue, or myofascial.

If you have fibromyalgia, probably the last thing you want to do when you are struggling with a painful flare-up is exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to manage your pain and reduce the intensity and frequency of future flare-ups.

Regular exercise can help improve the health of your muscles so that they can better withstand biochemical and physical stress. Exercise also can improve sleep, help you feel more energetic, and can reduce feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety that often accompany fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses. It is also important to exercise regularly to control or reduce your weight and avoid putting additional strain on your muscles.

Just like those with arthritis, it is important for people who have fibromyalgia to stick to a varied exercise routine that involves resistance training, low-impact cardio, and flexibility practices like yoga. If you feel like it is impossible to start an exercise routine with your current pain, focus on starting slow. Even just going for a short walk or doing a few minutes of stretching a few times a week is a perfect starting point.


Regular exercise can also benefit the 422 million adults all over the world who suffer from Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. It can also help those with pre-diabetes reduce their weight and avoid becoming diabetics.

Resistance training is especially beneficial for people with diabetes because it helps them increase their muscle mass. The likelihood of storing extra glucose as fat goes down when muscle mass increases. Exercise, in general, is also crucial for people with diabetes because it improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood glucose.

In addition to resistance training, diabetics can also benefit from performing regular cardiovascular exercises like walking, jogging, or swimming to help them reduce and control their weight.

The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetics alternate between medium- and low-intensity forms of exercise several times per week. The ADA also advises against being sedentary for extended periods. Instead of staying seated for hours at a time, either work or home, try to stand up every half hour or so and do some stretches or torso twists. Even low-intensity movements like this can have a positive impact on your blood glucose levels throughout the day.


Asthma affects nearly 300 million people worldwide. Contrary to popular belief, exercise does not necessarily cause asthma attacks. It can help people with asthma strengthen their lungs to prevent attacks from occurring in the first place. Some of the best forms of exercise for people with asthma include:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Pilates
  • Swimming

Of all these activities, swimming is probably the best for people with asthma because they are exercising in a warm, humid environment. Maintaining a horizontal position can also be beneficial because it seems to help loosen mucus that accumulates at the bottom of the lungs. It is important to take some precautions if you are exercising to help treat your asthma to reap the benefits.

First, keep in mind the fact that cold weather can trigger asthma attacks, so you may want to take your workouts inside during the winter. Second, if swimming is your workout of choice, make sure you are not swimming in an over-chlorinated pool, as this can also trigger attacks.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from any of these common chronic illnesses, remember that exercise is a viable option for helping you treat your symptoms. Do not forget, either, that it is never too late to start incorporating regular physical activity into your routine.

As long as you start slow, work with a professional, and are patient with yourself as you find the right kind of exercise and adjust to this new lifestyle, you will almost certainly see your symptoms start to improve.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • NURSE, S. (2018) Exercise Treatment for Chronic Illness [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Nurse Susan has always been passionate about helping people heal. After she retired from a lifelong career as a nurse, that passion did not go away. She loves to use her expertise to write about the best ways to keep you and your family healthy, active, and happy.