Exercise is vital to maintaining your well-being, regardless of your current state of health. But you might need to take special precautions if you have an underlying condition. Learn some general tips that preventive medicine relies on, then talk to your doctor about what types of exercise are right for you.

How much exercise do I need?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that all adults should get at least 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, plus two days of muscle strengthening – popularly divided into 30 minutes of exercise five days per week. This might sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember that many different activities count. Walking, dancing and lawn mowing are just a few everyday things that count as physical activity. Swimming and water aerobics are very low-impact ways to get your body moving while taking the pressure off your bones and joints.

Muscle-strengthening could include such traditional exercises as weightlifting or pushups. But it also includes carrying heavy grocery bags, some types of yoga, or using light resistance bands.

Is it safe to exercise with a pre-existing condition?

A targeted exercise program can often help relieve the symptoms of nearly any chronic illness. Only your doctor can specify what is safe for your unique body at this moment in time. But according to the National Institute on Aging, people with pre-existing conditions can generally exercise safely, especially if they start slowly and build up gradually.

What if I have arthritis or chronic pain?

If you have arthritis or a chronic pain condition, you will want to blend the four basic types of exercise: flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance. Each of these plays an essential role in reducing the pressure on your joints and helping your body more easily go through the activities of daily living.

But you’ll want to be careful not to aggravate painful spots in your body. You may need to adapt certain exercises to take the pressure off or skip specific activities altogether for a day or two when you are experiencing swelling or inflammation. And don’t try to push past the pain, as this could cause damage.

Can I exercise with a heart or lung condition?

Exercise can be a vital part of rebuilding your stamina and improving your health following a heart or lung condition diagnosis. But you will need to carefully follow your doctor’s orders, as doing too much too soon could be dangerous. Your doctor might refer you to a targeted rehabilitation program for people with your specific condition. If not, consider asking for a referral to a physical therapist experienced with that condition. Focus on slow, steady, and safe rehab, with an eventual goal of regular moderate to intense physical exercise.

What about osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis can put you at higher risk of breaking a bone, so be careful which exercises you choose. But weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or dancing, can help strengthen your bones and the muscles that support them. Additionally, strength and balance exercises can reduce your risk of falling, which is the most common way that people with osteoporosis break bones. Work with your doctor or physical therapist to develop a fitness routine that is safe and effective for you.

Do people with dementia need regular exercise?

Physical fitness is essential in both preventing dementia and minimizing its effects. If you care for someone with dementia, encourage that person to walk, dance, or work out to videos with you. Keep in mind that their attention span may be short, so consider a series of mini-fitness routines throughout the day rather than trying to force 30 minutes of exercise in one shot. If the person has difficulty walking or is unstable, try resistance bands or soft rubber exercise balls. Your loved one’s care team may have some additional ideas.

Exercising with diabetes

Exercise can help prevent Type 2 diabetes and stabilize blood sugar in people with diabetes. It’s best to get some exercise every day. Easy ways to incorporate more movement into your daily routine include, but are not limited to:

  • Walk around the neighborhood after dinner
  • Park further away from shops or offices
  • Stand up and stretch on commercial breaks when watching TV
  • Take a five-minute movement break after every hour of sitting at work
  • Walk or pace during phone calls
  • Use the stairs whenever possible

Keep in mind that exercise can sometimes lower blood sugar dramatically and with little warning. Always carry some rescue carbs, such as glucose tablets or candy, and pay attention to how your body feels. If you start experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, such as shaking, sweating, or dizziness, stop exercising and consume a few carbs. Check your blood sugar as soon as possible, and plan to eat a full meal sooner rather than later.

After you gain some experience with staying physically active, you will get a better handle on how it affects your blood sugar reading. You may want to talk to your doctor about adjusting your insulin or other medications on days when you are especially active. But until then, check your sugar frequently and always carry an emergency source of carbs.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

Exactly what to ask your doctor depends on the specifics of your pre-existing condition, current fitness level, and overall physical health. But in general, questions to ask might include:

  • Which types of exercises will be the most helpful in managing my condition?
  • Are there any activities I should avoid?
  • Can you recommend any specific stretches or other movements?
  • Would physical therapy or another rehabilitation program help, and if so, could I get a referral?
  • Are there any targets I should try to hit when exercising (such as a heart rate or blood sugar reading)?

If you have a pre-existing condition, you might worry about whether you should exercise how best to improve your physical fitness. While it is true that you may need some special considerations, virtually anyone can benefit from exercise. Talk to your doctor and other specialists, such as a physical therapist, if appropriate. Together, you and your treatment team can design a personalized exercise plan to help manage your condition and boost your fitness.