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.

"In fact, exercise can play an important role in helping you cope with or recover from a health challenge or accident," says Richard T. Cotton, national director of certification programs for the American College of Sports Medicine. "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. Cotton says 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

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

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

The instructor should perform specific evaluations, such as range-of-motion tests and a cardio-respiratory test, to 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," says Cotton.

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 have your doctor's OK before beginning an exercise program, because you may need to take medication to help you control your condition.

Exercises such as walking, cycling and swimming are least likely to cause an asthma attack because of their low intensity.

"Avoid exercising in polluted air or in extreme 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," says Cotton.

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," says Cotton. "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 physicians before they exercise.

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

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