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Exercising post-pandemic: the benefits of restarting physical activity

22/06/2021

With gyms and exercise classes open again following recent lockdowns, many people have embraced physical exercise and are back to a regular routine of keeping fit. Current national guidelines recommend 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise such as brisk walking or swimming 5 times a week. But how does this level of activity benefit your health? Dr Simon Donnelly, Consultant Rheumatologist and Sports Physician at The Holly Private Hospital, sets out the benefits.

Blood pressure and heart rate

Your blood pressure (BP) and heart rate will lower with exercise. There is strong evidence to show that regular exercise lowers BP equivalent to taking a single blood pressure tablet. With regular exercise many people could reduce perhaps one out of three BP medications.

A lower heart rate translates to a more effective action, the heart filling more efficiently and pumping blood to other organs to a greater effect.

Bone and muscle strength

Your bone strength will increase. Weaker bone strength or osteoporosis is a feature of the menopausal years for all females. The risk of a bone fracture such as a hip fracture is 1 in 2 after the menopause for females. Regular walking lessens this risk.

Muscle strength and elasticity decline as you age and this can be slowed or prevented with aerobic exercise such as walking, combined with resistance exercise such as weights at the gym. These exercises will allow you to lose weight and build muscle. A combination of both forms of exercise is ideal.

Preventing osteoarthritis

Exercise also helps to prevent or lessen the risk of osteoarthritis (OA) in your knees. If you have early OA exercise will help to reduce pain and stiffness, and will slow the rate of cartilage loss, helping to lessen or delay the likelihood of knee replacement surgery in future years.

Lower back pain

Back pain is almost universal. One easy method to prevent or treat lower back is to exercise; regular walking and core strength exercises such as yoga work best to prevent or treat lower back pain.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia (FM), a condition with symptoms including widespread pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, IBS symptoms and poor short-term memory, is best treated with regular exercise. This condition is very common in females between 30 and 65yrs. There is no recognised cure and medication is generally unhelpful. Establishing a pattern of regular exercise over months is the best treatment as reported by the majority of affected patients.

Preventing cancer risk

Exercise has been shown to lessen the risk of a number of cancers including breast, colorectal and uterine cancers. Being overweight or obese raises your risk for many cancers.

These are some of the benefits of regular exercise and don’t include the fact that you sleep better, feel generally more positive and will have an increased libido.

Rheumatology services at The Holly

Dr Donnelly is part of a specialist team of Consultant Rheumatologists at The Holly that diagnose and treat various joint, bone, muscle and connective tissue diseases, including osteoarthritis, sciatica and lupus. He has a specific interest in Fibromyalgia and all types of arthritis and joint pains. Dr Donnelly is at The Holly on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings.

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