Live Better

How can exercise help manage chronic illness?

Getting active can be an important part of living with diabetes, cancer and other common health conditions.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of regular exercise: stronger bones and muscles, an increase in energy, and the ability to better cope with stress and anxiety. But did you know that exercise can also be one of your greatest assets when it comes to managing a range of chronic diseases?

Heart conditions

It’s natural to worry that over exerting yourself might aggravate a newly diagnosed heart condition. However, according to the Heart Foundation, activities that get you moving without putting too much pressure on the heart, like a brisk walk, are generally safe for most people. It’s all about building up slowly to the recommended 30 minutes of exercise each day.

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According to the National Asthma Council Australia, you shouldn’t let asthma get in the way of being physically active. In fact, many of our most successful national sports stars manage this condition.

People with asthma can take their pick when it comes to exercise and team sports, as long as they’re aware of their environment. Certain conditions like dry or cold air, high-pollen or high-dust days are best avoided. A proper warm-up and cool-down are essential and just to be safe, develop an asthma action plan with your GP in case symptoms do flare up.

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A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that physical activity has a direct link to improved life expectancy when it comes to breast cancer. The study states that, “Patients should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, five days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Two to three sessions of strength training for large muscle groups are also recommended.”

Exercise can also help manage the most common side-effect of cancer treatments, fatigue. Karen Mustian, Ph.D. and lead author of a recent medical study on the subject published in JAMA Oncology, says, “If a cancer patient is having trouble with fatigue, rather than looking for extra cups of coffee, a nap, or a pharmaceutical solution, consider a 15-minute walk.”

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Exercise has very specific benefits for people with diabetes. It can help insulin to work more effectively and this improves your ability to manage the disease. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your blood pressure.

Diabetes Australia does advise that you should avoid exercise any time you’re feeling unwell, or have ketones present in your blood or urine.

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For other chronic conditions like arthritis, when and what type of exercise could benefit you is highly dependent on the type of arthritis you have. You can find out more at Arthritis Australia’s website,

Training with a professional

It’s common for your confidence to take a big hit after a disease diagnosis. If you think you’d benefit from some guidance to get you going, try an exercise and rehabilitation centre, or a few sessions with a qualified fitness instructor who has specific training in disease management.

Personal trainer Bella Sood from Goodlife Health Clubs has these words of encouragement: “My clients who do and do not have a chronic disease are not treated differently. It’s just a different approach in terms of the training style. Everyone should have a personalised touch with their training and wellbeing.”

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