How exercise can help prevent disease

It’s probably no surprise that exercise is good for you. The physical therapists in the Physiquality network recommend physical activity as part of living a healthy lifestyle, and we all know it can help you lose weight and feel better. But how exactly can it improve your health? Here are a few ways exercise can actually prevent health problems.

Heart disease

The oft-cited parameters to work out 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week (or 150 minutes a week) were published by the American Heart Association in 2011. They are part of the AHA’s simple seven rules for maximal heart health: Get active, control your cholesterol, eat healthy food, manage your blood pressure, lose weight, reduce your blood sugar, and stop smoking.

White woman wearing a doctor's coat and stethescope speaks to another woman, a patient, about her health.

While 150 minutes a week can sound daunting, even mild exercise is better than none. You can start by walking more, and by setting a goal of 10,000 steps a day. If you want to keep track of your progress, consider buying a pedometer to count your steps every day.

Type 2 diabetes

Physical activity reduces many of the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, like being overweight and having high blood pressure. A variety of activities can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Strength or resistance training has been shown to help reduce blood glucose levels; some studies have shown that it’s even more effective than aerobic exercise. That said, many experts advise using a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training to improve health and reduce your risk of diabetes.

Keep in mind that little things can go a long way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the far end of the lot when you run errands or go to the office. Use your break to walk a lap or two around your office building. Essentially, try to sit less; recent studies show that too much sitting can double your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Woman wearing a black hat and climbing a long flight of stairs.


A stroke can be a life-threatening event, caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain — think of it as a “brain attack,” compared to when the heart stops working, a heart attack. According to the National Institutes of Health, “although stroke is a disease of the brain, it can affect the entire body. The effects of a stroke range from mild to severe and can include paralysis, problems with thinking, problems with speaking, and emotional problems.”

The NIH lists several risk factors for strokes, which all fall under the AHA’s simple seven plan: high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol. With the exception of smoking, exercise has been shown to reduce each of those factors. In addition, a study published last fall in the British Medical Journal found that “exercise programs were more effective than anticoagulants or antiplatelet medicines” in preventing stroke.

Mental health

Those of us that work out on a regular basis know that we feel better on the days that we work out. Now a variety of scientific studies have data to back that up.

  • Preventing depression. A paper published last year collected data from 30 different studies that analyzed how exercise affected depression. The paper concluded that “there is promising evidence that any level of [physical activity], including low levels (e.g., walking < 150 minutes/week), can prevent future depression.”
Worried man talking on the phone at the beach.
  • Reducing anxiety. A 2010 study at the University of Georgia focused on the anxiety of chronically ill patients. The researchers “found that, on average, patients who exercised regularly reported a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms, compared to those who did not exercise.”
  • Moderating anger. While exercise may not completely calm those who become angry, another study at UGA found that exercise helped to soothe angry reactions. What the results of the study suggest is that “exercise, even a single bout of it, can have a robust prophylactic effect” against the buildup of anger, said Nathaniel Thom, a stress physiologist who was the study’s lead researcher.

The Mayo Clinic points out that exercise can reduce depression both physically, by releasing endorphins and increasing body temperature, and emotionally, by improving confidence, increasing social interaction, and distracting you from negative thoughts. And a couple of different papers have found that even a five-minute walk in a natural environment (think leafy green) can lessen brain fatigue and help you relax.

To sum up, exercise improves your cardiac health, reduces your risk of diabetes and stroke, and gives you a clearer mental outlook. So put down your computer or tablet and start moving! Find out what wellness and fitness options the Physiquality locations near you offer by using our clinic locator below.

Healthy living: Fitness. American Diabetes Association. May 21, 2014.

Mayo Clinic.

Stroke. National Institutes of Health, December 23, 2013.

Mammen, George and Guy Faulkner. Physical activity and the prevention of depression. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November 2013.

Bakalar, Nicholas. Exercise as preventive medicine. New York Times, October 9, 2013.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Easing brain fatigue with a walk in the park. New York Times, March 27, 2013.

Reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. Physiquality, November 15, 2012.

Fell, James. Outrun diabetes. Chicago Tribune, November 1, 2012.

Nainggolan, Lisa. Get up, stand up: Sitting for too long doubles diabetes risk. Medscape, October 15, 2012.

Wood, Shelley. Upping physical activity slashes CV events, deaths in type 2 diabetics. Medscape, October 2, 2012.

Some exercise is better than none for lower heart disease risk. Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2011.

Adams, Jill U. The new guidelines for heart health. Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2011.

The simple seven. American Heart Association.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Can exercise moderate anger? New York Times, August 11, 2010.

In the green of health: Just 5 minutes of ‘green exercise’ optimal for good mental health. Science Daily, May 21, 2010.

“Worried!” by photoloni is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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