Chronic Disease Prevention: Physical Activity


Chronic Disease Prevention: Physical Activity

If you have a chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, exercise can help manage your symptoms. If you are not regularly exercising, getting started can be the hardest part. Remember, along with your diet and medications, regular physical activity is essential to managing your chronic disease. Exercise can help you feel better. Whether you take a walk around the block, go for a run, or dance in your living room – getting started is the most important part! 

This post was written by Atziri Villafana, dietetic intern, and reviewed/edited by Edith Yang, RD, CSR, CLT, FAND

What Is Physical Activity? 

Physical Activity refers to all movement including activity during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work. Both moderate and vigorous-intensity physical activity has been shown to improve overall health. Moderate-intensity exercise refers to activities that require more oxygen consumption, such as brisk walking, sweeping the floor, or bicycling. Meanwhile, vigorous-intensity training includes activities that increase breathing or heart rate, such as jogging, jump roping, or bicycling uphill. 

How Physical Activity Can Improve Your Chronic Condition

Regular physical activity, fitness, and exercise are critically important for the health and well-being of people of all ages. Research has demonstrated that regular exercise can reduce morbidity and mortality from many chronic diseases. Millions of people suffer from chronic illnesses that can be prevented or managed through regular physical activity.

With exercise, it becomes easier to move around, complete your daily tasks, and still have energy for other activities you enjoy. In addition, physical activity can help control blood pressure, improve muscle strength, increase “good” HDL cholesterol, improve sleep, and boost mood. 

Should I See My Doctor Before Starting An Exercise Routine? 

Yes! Before beginning any exercise routine, be sure to check with your doctor to determine what physical activities are safest for you. Your doctor might recommend specific exercises to reduce pain or build strength. You might also need to avoid particular exercises depending on your condition or age. When you are creating your new exercise plan, be sure to look at four things – the type of exercise, length of time you will spend exercising, how often you will exercise, and how hard you will work while exercising. 

Type of Exercises 

Learn about the four types of exercises and how they can benefit you. No matter your age, you can find activities that meet your fitness level and needs.

Aerobic Exercise 

Aerobic exercise speeds up your heart rate and breathing. This type of exercise can help improve your heart health, endurance, and aid in weight loss. In addition, this type of exercise helps relax blood vessel walls, lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and raise “good” HDL cholesterol. In the long run, aerobic exercise may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. 

Person in blue denim jeans and white sneakers walking on the road.

Exercises: Brisk walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, or dancing. 

Strength Training 

We lose muscle mass as we age, and strength training can help build it back. Strength training can improve muscle strength and endurance, make it easier to complete daily tasks, and provide stability to joints. Strengthening your muscles not only makes you stronger, but also stimulates bone growth, lowers blood sugar levels, and reduces stress and pain in the joints. Most importantly, strength training can help you feel more confident and boost your mood. 

Person holding a black barbell.

Exercises: Lifting weights, working with resistance bands, and activities that use your body weight for resistance (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups). 

Flexibility & Balance

Stretching helps maintain flexibility, have an optimal range of motion around your joints, and reduce the risk of falls. As we get older, our muscles shorten, and we tend to lose flexibility in the muscles and tendons. This can increase the risk of muscle cramps and joint pain, and make it more challenging to get through daily activities. Stretching will help make your muscle longer and more flexible, which can help increase your range of motion. 

In addition to stretching, balance exercises help prevent falls and improve your lower-body strength. Balance exercises are often recommended for older adults to prevent serious consequences from falling.

Woman stretching on a gray mat.

Flexibility Exercises: Downward-facing dog, knee-to-chest stretch, and seated neck release. 

Balance Exercises: Tai Chi, heel-to-toe walk, standing from a seated position.

Physical Activity Recommended Guidelines 

Before starting your routine, it is important to talk to your doctor about how long your exercise sessions should take and what level of intensity is safe for you. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise and two days of muscle-strengthening activity every week. I know 150 minutes can sound like a lot, but you do not have to do it all at once! 

You can spend 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week doing an activity that gets your body moving and feeling food. You can spread your activity out throughout the week and break it up into smaller chunks of time, so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. Remember, it is okay if you haven’t been active for a while – start off slowly and build up gradually. 

Tips To Getting Started

I understand that getting into a new workout routine can be intimidating and overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you feel confident to start your fitness journey today! 

Increase Your Steps 

Look for ways to decrease your sitting time and increase your moving time. For example, make it a habit to walk before or after dinner. If you are working from home try taking a short walk on your break outside and enjoy the fresh air!

Make A Plan and Set Realistic Goals 

Once you know what type of exercise is safe for you to complete, try to create a plan that includes attainable steps and goals. If your goal is to move your body for at least 30 minutes a day, try setting aside a specific time out of your day to dedicate to exercising. Determine the time of day, the type and intensity level of the activity, and how long it will take to complete to ensure you have set sufficient time aside. Keeping a physical activity planner can be helpful when you are first starting out.

Physical Activity Plan with the days of the week, time of day, description of activity, and duration.
Click here to print the exercise tracker

Do What You Enjoy 

Start with activities, locations, and times you enjoy. For example, you might enjoy walks around your neighborhood in the mornings, attend a workout class in the evenings, or follow an online workout video after work. You can even grab a friend or family member to join you for additional support and encouragement. Don’t be afraid to switch up your activities and try something new! 

Start Slowly 

If you are just beginning to exercise, start off slowly and gradually increase your time or include more challenging activities. You can use free exercise apps and websites to find fun ways to be physically active. Walking is an excellent start to becoming more active. 

When You Should and Should Not Exercise 

Try to schedule your exercise into your everyday routine. Wait at least one hour after eating a large meal and avoid working out during hot times of the day. Do not exercise less than an hour before bedtime because it can interfere with your sleeping routine. 

You should not exercise if you feel sick, dizzy, light-headed, have shortness of breath, or feel extremely tired. Rest days are equally important during your exercise routine. Listen to your body and adjust your plan accordingly. 


Starting a new exercise routine is an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By planning carefully and pacing yourself, you can create a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime! In addition to exercising, nutrition is essential in managing or preventing chronic diseases. If you would like to learn other ways to treat and manage the chronic health condition you are dealing with, visit Healthy Mission Dietitian to work with me 1:1! 


The 4 most important types of exercise. Harvard Health. (2022, February 2). Retrieved October 24, 2022, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 16). Getting started with physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from

It’s A Great Time To Get Moving. American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2022, from

Staying fit with kidney disease. National Kidney Foundation. (2019, June 25). Retrieved October 24, 2022, from



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