These are the diseases exercise can save you from
You’ve heard for years that exercise is good for you, and you probably know that you need to be physically active. But did you know that being sedentary is linked to some significant health risks, while exercising will not only improve your physical fitness and muscle function, but will also protect you from a wide range of undesirable health conditions? Here are just some of the conditions and diseases that exercise can help prevent.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in Australia and is responsible for killing one Australian every 12 minutes. Sadly, these deaths are largely preventable due to modifiable risk factors such as lifestyle, exercise and diet.
Lack of exercise is one of the significant risk factors for developing heart disease, and the danger of inactivity is profound. Living an inactive, sedentary lifestyle is one of the top five risk factors for developing heart disease; but engaging in regular exercise can significantly lower that risk. Exercise can:
- Help you maintain a healthy weight
- Lower and control your blood pressure
- Reduce your risk of heart disease
- Lower harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
- Raise healthy HDL cholesterol
- Reduce stress levels and anxiety, which take their toll on your heart
- Increase the heart’s ability to pump blood over time
- Improve circulation
- Reduce the risk of diabetes (a risk factor for developing heart disease)
Think of exercise as an insurance policy that can offer short and long-term protection for your heart. 30 minutes a day is ideal for a strong and healthy heart.
For some creative ways to find your 30 minutes of exercise a day, click here.
Diabetes is on the rise in Australia, with almost two million Australians having some form of diabetes or pre-diabetes. The good news is that the onset of this disease can be delayed or avoided with preventative measures such as eating a healthy diet and exercise.
If you don’t yet have diabetes, maintaining the recommended levels of physical activity can reduce your risk of getting the disease. Clinical trials have shown that exercise, healthy eating and reducing your weight can prevent diabetes.
If you do have diabetes, it’s still worthwhile undertaking some form of regular physical activity. Exercise is highly beneficial for everyone, but it’s particularly important for diabetics. If you have diabetes, exercise can:
- Lower blood glucose levels
- Boost your body’s sensitivity to insulin, thus countering insulin resistance
- Help your insulin to work better
- Help maintain a healthy weight
Experts recommend that diabetics should exercise at least 30 minutes a day (although always make sure to monitor your blood sugar levels before and after exercise).
Cancer seems to be prevalent in today’s society, but studies have estimated that half of all cancer deaths are avoidable by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. And one of the most powerful cancer-fighting weapons has been shown to be exercise. Staying active can help lower the risk of developing many types of cancer, such as breast, colorectal, uterine, liver, stomach, kidney, and oesophageal cancers. Exercise can:
- Help you control your weight and reduce the harmful effects of obesity
- Reduce hormone levels such as insulin and oestrogen which have been associated with cancer development and progression
- Reduce inflammation
- Strengthen the immune system
- Decrease the body’s exposure to possible carcinogens by speeding up the rate at which food travels through the digestive system
- Boost quality of life during cancer treatment
And the good news is that it’s never too late to start being physically active, as you’ll still see the benefits of exercise at any age. Up to an hour of moderate activity each day or a daily 30 minutes of vigorous activity is recommended to cut your cancer risk.
For more on how much exercise you really need, click here.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys thinking skills, memory and the ability to carry out simple tasks. While there is currently no cure for the disease, there are a few options for treating or reducing the symptoms. One of these is exercise.
Studies have shown that regular exercise can counter the cognitive decline that comes with ageing and help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s. More and more studies are being carried out in this area and latest findings show that improvements in fitness can help alleviate one of the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease – the slowing down of how neurons break down glucose.
Other Alzheimer’s-related brain changes include:
- The shrinking of the volume of the hiccocampus, which is important for memory
- The build-up of amyloid
- Declines in cognitive function, such as standard recall or recognition
Studies have established that exercising at recommended levels significantly reduces these changes or even eradicates them entirely. Test groups have shown that exercise increases the levels of glucose metabolism essential for normal functioning and improves cognitive functioning. Experts are hopeful that increased physical activity may even reduce the effect of strong risk factors for Alzheimer’s such as age and genetics.
As well, exercise has been shown to reduce brain changes associated with neuron degeneration and dementia.
Read more about why exercise is no longer optional for older people here.
Mental health issues
Experts are starting to believe that exercise plays a bigger role in your mental health than your economic status; and the benefits of physical activity on mental health are likely to be vast.
Exercise and physical activity have been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of depression and improving mental health in all age groups. Exercise is also effective in reducing stress levels, as well as building confidence and independence – all of which play important roles in mental health. Exercise has huge mental health benefits – and in a society where mental health issues are becoming epidemic, the importance of being physically active cannot be overstated. It’s interesting to note that the positive mental health benefit of exercise is magnified when you participate in team sports that involve a social element.
While there are certain recommended guidelines for the amount of activity you need to do to gain physical health benefits, it’s a different ball game when it comes to mental health. Even low doses of physical activity (such as walking twice a week) are linked to a reduced risk of depression. Research suggests that you don’t have to accumulate all your activity at once to be beneficial either, as exercise accumulated in smaller blocks throughout the day can be just as beneficial.
And it seems that there’s no difference between strength or cardio based activities in producing mental health benefits. Studies show that the best thing for your mental health is to combine strength training with aerobic activities, which will add up to help regulate your mood and prevent mental health issues.
Click here to read more about how exercise is the best antidepressant.
Osteoporosis is one of the most common conditions in the world, but it’s quite preventable with the right treatment and – you guessed it – exercise. Lack of exercise is recognised as one of the risk factors for osteoporosis, and while some risk factors (such as genetics) are out of your control, exercise is not one of them. The good news is that levels of physical activity are entirely modifiable and increasing the amount of exercise you do can significantly reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Statistics show that one in three women and one in five men will experience an osteoporotic fracture at some point – which is a frighteningly high statistic. Early detection is vital in successfully preventing osteoporosis, so exercise even when you’re younger is extremely important. After the age of 30, bone loss speeds up and bone replacement processes slow down, resulting in increasing reductions in bone density as you get older. Physical activity can help improve your bone density and reduce your risk of painful broken bones – as well as helping to improve your balance, coordination and flexibility, which also decreases your chance of falling and fractures.
- Keep these tips in mind:
Prioritise strength training, which allows you to place good stress on your bones to help strengthen them
- Cardio is useful, but it’s not the be all and end all – you need strength training (lifting weights) to increase bone density
However you look at it, exercise is linked to a longer and healthier life – it really is the magic bullet to better health.