Benefits of Physical Activity for Chronic Conditions (Part 1)
Personal trainers don’t only train fit and healthy people – they can also help clients with chronic conditions who want to keep active.
A targeted programme of exercise designed by a fitness professional can bring great benefits for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis and mental health conditions.
What are the benefits of exercise for chronic conditions?
Physical activity improves our ability to perform daily activities. It can also make the difference between needing help or care and living independently.
Exercise is known to boost energy levels, improve flexibility and strength, and enhance mental wellbeing. It can also give purpose and goals to someone who has a chronic condition, and to help them develop friendships and social networks.
The benefits of exercise for chronic conditions include:
- Helps an individual to carry out everyday tasks
- Boosts confidence, self-esteem and body image
- Promotes restful sleep
- Improves cognitive functioning
- Increases independence
- Reduces the risk of early death from chronic disease
- Improves psychological wellbeing, reduces stress and anxiety
- Reduces social isolation
What physiological adaptations allow exercise to improve health?
The physiological adaptations that promote psychological benefits include:
- Endocrine system transmits chemicals that improve mood
- Heart rate and circulation increase core temperature, providing a calming effect
- Increased steroid reserves promote better stress management
- Energy expenditure releases tension and glucose in the circulatory system
What approach should a fitness instructor take with clients with chronic conditions?
A personal trainer or fitness instructor working with a client with a chronic condition should first consult with the client to get an understanding of their condition and find out how the client is managing their condition and what medication they are on. They should also ask what the client’s expectations are and how well they understand how exercise might be able to help them.
By gathering information, the personal trainer can plan a safe, targeted exercise programme that suits the specific needs of the client and addresses their goals. It can be useful to create SMART goals – ones that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time framed.
The client may have barriers to overcome in order to stick to their training, for example:
- Social pressure and influence from others (friends, family, role models, media)
- Lack of education/knowledge – general and about fitness and health
- Perceived or actual barriers to exercise relating to their age, gender, socio-economic status, cultural or religious beliefs
- Accessibility of training, e.g. cost, lack of transport
There can also be psychological factors at play. Those with mental health conditions can benefit from exercise but their condition can create barriers, from anxiety about leaving the house to concerns about managing social interaction in a gym environment.
It’s a good idea to take the little and often approach to start them on the road to behavioural changes. Focus on the positive impact of exercise on mental wellbeing, such as boosting self-esteem and improving motivation, as well as creating a structure to their day and allowing them opportunities to meet with others and develop a sense of belonging to a social group.