Learning that you or your child has a long-term or ‘chronic’ condition like diabetes, asthma or heart disease can come as a big shock, especially if you haven’t had any physical symptoms. Good news is exercise plays a key role in managing many chronic conditions — so don’t hang up those trainers so soon!
What can exercise do for me now?
Not only does regular physical activity help you lose weight and build muscle — it also helps keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels under control, lowers your blood pressure and the amount of fat and cholesterol in your blood, and improves the health of your heart and circulation.
Exercising and keeping fit also makes your lungs stronger, so much so that you can include it as part of your treatment for asthma!
And there are social and emotional benefits to be gained from exercise that can be a great support if you or your child has a chronic condition.
Get advice before you set off
Everyone is different and health conditions can affect us in different ways. So no matter what age you are it’s important to discuss a suitable exercise program with your doctor first, or they may refer you or your child to an exercise physiologist.
You can search for an exercise physiologist near where you live at the Exercise and Sports Science Australia website.
How hard should I push myself?
This will depend on the exercise program that’s recommended for you. About 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on 5 or more days per week is what’s recommended. You may need to work up to this goal gradually or you might be doing more already. The important thing is to get started!
Moderate intensity physical activity is the level at which you’re just finding it hard to carry out a conversation. The energy and effort required to achieve this will depend on your level of fitness — the fitter you are, the higher the workload you’ll need to reach that moderate intensity.
Which type of exercise can I do?
The exercise you choose can depend on your condition, level of fitness and personal preference. Aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate, such as a brisk walk or climbing stairs, and resistance exercises involving lifting moderate weights (8–10 repetitions) are generally recommended as they have proven benefits for chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
If you have a child with a chronic condition, consider with them what exercise they can do and might enjoy and get advice from your doctor. Conditions like diabetes, asthma and epilepsy shouldn’t stop children from ever participating in sport.
Playing it safe
While a chronic condition needn’t stop you from exercising or playing sports, it’s important to check with your doctor what precautions you need to take when you do. For example, if you have diabetes, you may be advised to check your blood glucose levels before and after you exercise, and if necessary eat extra glucose-containing foods (e.g. carbohydrates) before or during exercise.
It’s also a good idea to make coaches or officials aware of your child’s condition, the effect it has on them, and how it needs to be managed, especially in an emergency.