Your new year’s resolution to start working out could do more than just trim your waistline

Happy New Year! And as your new year’s resolution, you’ve decided to start an exercise regimen. Good for you! Along with healthy eating, regular exercise is a great way to lose weight, increase energy, improve sleep and generally feel better.

But did you know that exercise can actually help you prevent many chronic conditions? And if you already have chronic conditions, did you know that exercise can reduce their impact on your health, alleviate symptoms and in some cases even reduce your dependence on medication?

You might know that exercise is helpful in reducing the impact of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But a 2015 study actually found evidence that exercise is a legitimate form of treatment for 26 different chronic conditions, including depression and anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, COPD, asthma, and even cancer.

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Starting an exercise program is almost always a good idea, but not all exercise is created equal. The type of exercise you choose is very important, not only because different exercises have different health benefits, but especially if you have a chronic condition, you want to choose exercises that won’t exacerbate your condition.

The most important thing to determine before you start is whether you are healthy enough to exercise, and to what extent. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you suffer from any kind of heart condition, high blood pressure, or have experienced chest pain. It’s also a good idea to check with your physician if you’ve recently had surgery or if you have a serious illness like cancer.

Generally, it is a good idea to choose exercises that combine aerobic training, strength training and flexibility training.

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Some conditions will require you to carefully monitor yourself during and after exercise. If you have diabetes, make sure to check your blood sugar levels to protect against hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). And of course if you have any kind of heart condition, it is especially important to monitor your heart rate. In all cases, you don’t want to push your heart rate to an unsafe level, but safety thresholds can vary depending on your age and other factors. Some medications can actually suppress your heart rate, so you have to be particularly careful and consult your doctor about exercise, particularly if you are taking beta blockers.

You also want to avoid exercises that could exacerbate your condition. So, for example, running would not typically be a good choice for someone who suffers from chronic knee or lower back pain, or if you have a condition like arthritis that affects your joints.

Here’s one you’ve probably heard, but it bears repeating. Be sure to always warm up and then stretch before exercising. Warming up is just to get the blood flowing. A brisk walk will do. If you try to stretch before warming up, you could increase the chance of injuring yourself.

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Last but not least, it’s critically important to start slow and build up your fitness level gradually. Especially if you have not exercised regularly before, or haven’t done so in a long time, don’t push too hard, and don’t expect to see dramatic results in the first week.

Rome was not built in a day. It’s January, and you don’t want your resolution to run out of steam before the spring thaw. Doing a little is better than doing nothing at all, and the more exercise you do, the more you’ll find you can do. Be patient, but most of all, don’t give up.

Good luck, and good health to you in 2018 and beyond!