Health Encyclopedia

Stay Fit When You Have a Health Challenge

Working out when you have a serious illness or health problem can be challenging. But for most people who have health issues, exercising can improve their prognosis and well-being. 

Exercise can play an important role in helping you cope with or recover from a health challenge or accident. Physical activity can help increase endurance, strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, as well as ease pain and improve sleep and mental attitude. 

Certain guidelines should be met to make sure an exercise program is helpful. Your health care provider will offer specific suggestions that you should follow, as should the fitness instructor or trainer who develops the program for you.

The right program

Photo of a middle aged woman at the gym. She is looking at the camera and holding a water bottle. Exercise machines are lined up behind her.

Ideally, your regimen should progress from one that requires relatively little effort to one that is more challenging, yet appropriate. 

An instructor should provide modification of exercise, when necessary, specific to your condition. Any fitness professional you work with should have experience or training working with people with your specific health problem. 

The instructor should perform specific evaluations, such as range-of-motion tests and cardiorespiratory testing, to measure your baseline heart rate and ensure a safe heart rate during aerobic activities. This information should be used to establish goals and design a safe, effective workout regimen.

Arthritis

A program of moderate exercise can offset the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Flexibility and range-of-motion exercises can be done every day, as long as you take your time and never stretch to the point of pain or discomfort. 

Depending on the severity of your arthritis, you may be able to do low-impact aerobic exercises three or more times a week. Walking, swimming and bicycling are good choices. Be sure to finish every workout with gentle stretching.

Asthma

Most people with asthma benefit from some form of regular physical activity. It's important to talk with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program, because you may need to take medication to help you control your condition. 

Asthma symptoms may develop during exercise despite pretreatment and may sometimes be more severe than expected. 

Avoid exercising in polluted air, in extreme cold, or when experiencing a common cold, and don't rush through your warm-up or cool-down—extending them can prevent asthma attacks that occur during and immediately after an exercise session.

Type 2 diabetes

Regular exercise can help people with diabetes control their glucose levels. It can help them lose weight and improve muscle tone and strength, all of which improves insulin effectiveness. 

Low-intensity walking, aerobics and cycling are good options. Flexibility exercises and strength training also are recommended. Diabetics need to monitor their glucose before and after exercise to see how they're responding to different activities in order to avoid hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar).

Heart disease

Many people with heart disease can benefit from a modified exercise program if they get specific guidelines and instructions from their health care providers before they exercise. 

It's essential to monitor your exercise intensity closely and to stay within your heart-rate zone as recommended by your health care provider. Never overexert yourself or exercise to the point of chest pain or angina. If you develop chest pain during exercise, call 911.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Jones, Niya, MD
  • Sather, Rita RN