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How regular exercise can be beneficial for those living with long-term conditions

23rd September 2020

In our latest blog, Healthcare at Home Physiotherapist and exercise specialist Tushar Gajjar explains how regular exercise can be beneficial for everyone but especially for those living with long-term conditions. 

Being active on a regular basis can benefit our general health and wellbeing in all sorts of ways. For people living with long-term conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and cancer, moving more and introducing some form of physical exercise could make a real difference to your health.

How exercise benefits your health

Regular exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease progressing and to help lower blood sugar levels – especially important for people with diabetes. It can also help improve cognition in people living with dementia. (Interestingly, research has found that people who are active have a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment and related conditions such as dementia at all.)

Being active can also help to control your weight, boost energy levels, reduce stress and increase your strength, flexibility and self-esteem. It can also benefit your mental health. Studies have shown that exercise can help reduce stress in people with anxiety and depression. For people living with cancer, regular exercise can have an enormous impact on quality of life.

Start by moving more

Research has shown that people aged 60 and over often fall into a routine of leading a sedentary lifestyle. It’s also estimated that we can spend around nine hours a day sitting. One of the best ways to break up this sedentary cycle is to get moving more. This can be as simple as standing up and moving around for a moment or two every couple of hours to start with. You could incorporate a little more movement simply by regularly walking to the kitchen to get a glass of water, for example.

From there, progress to doing activities you enjoy such as walking with a friend, gardening or perhaps doing a spot of DIY. You could also start being more active by doing a short exercise routine such as gentle body stretches for 10-15 minutes three times a week. These are all great types of exercise that will help to improve your fitness and boost your energy levels. Getting outdoors every day is highly recommended too, of course.

Additionally, you can make smaller lifestyle changes such as standing up when you talk on the phone and using the stairs rather than taking the lift. Group exercise classes not only help to improve your fitness, they can also help you to meet others and make important social connections.

Diet and hydration

Other steps you can take to lead a healthy lifestyle include trying to eat a more healthy, balanced diet by including a variety of fruit and vegetables. Adding more colour to your plate will help to provide the vital nutrients your body needs. Your diet should also include lean proteins such as chicken, healthy fats such as omega 3-rich oily fish or flaxseeds and wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain pasta and bread.

Hydration is also very important and it’s recommended we consume around 1.5 to two litres of fluids per day. Ideally, your fluid intake should mainly come from water, herbal teas or cordial-based drinks. Fresh juice can contain a lot of sugar so it’s recommended to have no more than one small glass a day. It’s also a good idea to be mindful about how much caffeine you drink. Caffeine drinks such as tea and coffee are diuretics and lead to increased excretion of fluid from the body. Excess coffee can also lead to constipation.

Importance of sleep

Getting plenty of sleep is also essential as part of a healthy lifestyle. Cutting down on having caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and exercising in the evening can help if you are struggling to sleep well. Going for an evening walk or doing gentle body exercises will help to increase blood circulation in the body and fire up your muscles. This will help to tire you out a little and ready your body for sleep.

In terms of gentle exercise, yoga can be particularly beneficial for many of us. Simple beginner level yoga moves such as downward facing dog and mountain pose can help with range of motion. Your muscles can actively participate in these stretches and they can usually be carried out with minimal discomfort. Regular exercise can help to keep the joints and muscles as free and as flexible as possible.

For more information on how you can safely introduce exercise, speak to your specialist nurse at your referring hospital or your Healthcare at Home nurse. This NHS exercise guide is also brimming with great suggestions for everyone.

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