How Regular Exercise Reduces Your Risk of Disease

Julie Shenkman
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When you exercise, you reap all the benefits from it. Exercise helps lower stress levels, improve sleep and moods, lower blood pressure and strengthen the heart. Exercise can also lower your risk of getting several diseases due, in part, to your better overall state of health.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries. There are many risk factors for this disease that exercise can reduce. Plaque buildup may cause a blockage in an artery leading to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. Exercise helps lower your blood pressure and maintains healthy arteries.

Physical activity, coupled with a reduced-calorie healthy diet, keeps your weight lower. Exercise can lower inflammation in your arteries and decrease the "bad" type of cholesterol in your blood. Regular exercise may also help you quit smoking, as smoking is another risk factor for heart disease.

Physical activity lowers the amount of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood. These fats can increase your chances of having heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Anywhere between 120 and 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. These maladies occur due to a combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides and too much fat in the waist area. The more exercise you get per week, the lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Arthritis and Back Pain

Regular exercise strengthens your muscles all over your body. This can reduce stiffness in your joints associated with arthritis. Flexibility exercises give your joints a better range of motion so you prevent falls during your daily routine.

Low-impact aerobic activity improves your back muscles. Strengthen your core muscles, or those around your abdomen and lower back, to reduce the pressure on your spine and possibly ease back pain.


Although doctors are not sure why, increased physical activity may help prevent cancer, and higher amounts of exercise lead to lower cancer death rates in patients. Exercise reduces colon cancer in men and women, while more physical activity for men at work can lower their risk of prostate cancer. Physically active women have a smaller chance of getting breast cancer. Walking or cycling for one hour per day reduces your chances of a cancer diagnosis by 16 percent.


Exercise can control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Keep your inhaler close when you work out in case you have an asthma attack while you exercise.

How to Exercise Properly

Patients with chronic diseases should talk to their doctors before starting an exercise routine. Even as little as 60 minutes per week of moderately intense physical activity is good for your body. For example, a brisk walk for 30 minutes per day, five days per week equals 150 minutes of exercise in a week. This type of walking can help control your weight, reduce chances of getting type 2 diabetes, lower your risk of coronary heart disease and improve your arthritis.

Jogging is an easy type of physical activity that may improve your overall health. If you jog, aim for 20 minutes per day for three days per week. Other types of aerobic exercises include skiing, skating, jumping rope, dancing and rowing. Swimming works for people with back pain because it takes the strain off the back. Short bursts of exercise, such as the type of activity you get with tennis and baseball, could assist with lessening symptoms of asthma.

Build up to physical activity gradually if you have not exercised in a while. Set realistic exercise goals, and talk to your doctor about what levels of exercise are right for you and your condition. Men and women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds gain benefits from exercise that far outweigh any possible negative aspects, such as injuries.

Make sure to take precautions during exercise, and don't overdo it. With the right combination of exercise, diet and not smoking, you can reduce your chances of getting chronic diseases and live longer.

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  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    To exercise for 60 minutes in a week, I’d have to exercise for less than 10 minutes a day. Breaking down the required time in this way is really helpful for people like me who don’t exercise regularly. Even if I miss working out a few days per week, I should still be able to hit the required 60 minutes.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jay the answer depends upon who you ask. Some fitness trainers swear by first thing in the morning exercise while others say late afternoon or early evening is better and still others say that it doesn't matter - exercise is exercise regardless of the time of day. And, to add to the confusion, they say that you can break your exercise up into manageable times - say do 10 minutes in the morning, 10 in the middle of the afternoon and 10 in the early evening. One thing that most of them do agree upon is that you should not exercise right before bedtime. @Shadday I am the same way. I have to force myself to get up and walk around or I would find myself sitting all day to do my work. A good way to get into the habit of getting up, stretching and walking a bit is to set a timer on your phone or your computer for 10 minutes to the hour (or whatever works for you) to remind you to get up and move. Stretch, walk - get a nice long drink of water and then you can go back to your work refreshed and with more energy.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    These are great tips: however, I have a very demanding and time-consuming job. Does anyone know what time of day I should aim to get a little exercise? I'm looking for the most "bang for my buck," so to speak. Is it better to exercise in the morning or in the evening, or doesn't it matter?

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    Light yoga and other stretching exercises are often better for people with physical limitations, as it focuses on strengthening the muscles, toning the body and getting oxygen to vital tissues. It can help with weight management and reduce susceptibility to injuries, and it's especially useful for increasing spinal flexibility.

    I have always been a frequent walker, but during times when my workload is busy, I end up staying in my cave working all day without many breaks. Sitting for too long makes my spine feel very rigid and leads to the infamous lower back pain. I eventually discovered that tight hips from sitting for too long are one of the main contributors to low back pain, so getting up for short breaks and relieving pressure on the hip joints helps me stay comfortable.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments as they are all so true. Exercise causes those little endorphins to get busy. They not only help with weight control but they help with emotional and mental issues, too. I always consider them as my happy pill for the day. When I don't exercise I can feel like I am dragging through each day. Exercise not only wakes up the body but it wakes up the mind, too. @Kellen I agree that jogging is not for everyone but walking at least 10000 steps a day should be everyone's goal.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I agree with Catherine that the positive effect exercise has on mental health is one of its best qualities. Not only do you get the mood boost, but depression often leads to lethargy, poor eating, fatigue, stress, and other triggers of the diseases mentioned in this article. One more reason to exercise!

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    I disagree that jogging is an "easy type" of physical activity for everyone. For some people, jogging puts a lot of stress on the knees and ankles. I don't think jogging should be universally recommended. There are plenty of easier, yet effective, ways to get exercise. Jogging is especially rough on the body if the jogger isn't wearing the right shoes. The jogging surface is a big factor, too. Concrete is bad for your knees!


    The one thing that I would add to this list (although it's very good as is) is the fact that exercise is so beneficial for mental health and can prevent the onset of depression or anxiety. This list demonstrates that companies would benefit tremendously if they encouraged their employees to exercise more frequently through incentives or exercise facilities in their buildings because it could reduce chronic diseases.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I have seen so many people with a variety of illnesses and diseases in my nursing career. Though not always the case, the majority of these patients are people who do not regularly exercise and stay on top of their health. They are the ones that live a sedentary lifestyle and don't always make the healthiest choices. I know that people are going to point out examples of how a healthy, regularly exercising person became ill, and I know this does happen. However, I know from treating patients that the more you care for your body, the more cooperative your body is in return.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Does anyone know of any studies that show how healthy employees benefit a company's bottom line? I would think that healthier employees mean less turnover, fewer sick days and better productivity. I see articles about this all of the time, but rarely do any of them have "hard" numbers that prove companies should take care of their employees.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    I’ve been a daily outdoor walker all of my life, and I loved the attention walking in nature received last year (7/22/15 New York Times piece) with the exciting study conducted at Stanford. Researchers found marked cognitive, psychological and emotional benefits in nature walkers when compared to urban walkers (and indoor treadmill walkers, I presume?) Just a 50-minute nature walk can change the brain!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @Jacob - so true - even if you have to break it down into three 10 minutes walks during the day, you will have accomplished the same thing. @Lydia it goes without saying that you should always get an all clear from your doctor before starting any new exercise program. @Shannon, the recommended amount of exercise would be to walk for at least 30 minutes three times a week and also, if you can, to include light weight training two times a week. As mentioned, always get an approval from your doctor first.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    One of the most important pieces of information contained in this article is how little exercise can really make a difference. As mentioned, a brisk walk for 30 minutes a few days a week can have a dramatic improvement; that is as simple as a taking a walk on lunch instead of reading emails!

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    Many of the exercises recommended here could actually do more harm than good for some people. I used to enjoy running. But I realized that knee and ankle problems were limiting how far I could go before a doctor advised me that I needed to give it up. The same applies to back issues. Exercising with a bad back can make things worse and lead to permanent disability.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    Thank you so much for the warnings and much-needed advice about exercise. I've had physicians give me conflicting advice about when to push myself. In your opinion, how much is too much exercise each week? At what point does exercise become dangerous for people trying to get in shape or lose weight?

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