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HomeMedicinePublic HealthDo chronic disease patients exercise less than healthy individuals?

Do chronic disease patients exercise less than healthy individuals?

A study by Barker and colleagues compared physical activity in chronic disease patients and healthy individuals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that individuals exercise at least 150 minutes per week to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These recommendations are based on several studies that have shown that physical inactivity can increase the risk of developing chronic disease and worsen health outcomes. In England alone, there are an estimated 15 million individuals suffering from chronic disease and many more are affected in North America.

Chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and mental health disorders, tend to develop slowly over time and have long-term consequences on the patient’s health. Additionally, these individuals must undergo significant lifestyle changes, including undergoing regular physical activity, to prevent disease progression and improve their day-to-day life. Characterizing how much chronic disease patients exercise compared to healthy individuals will provide health care professionals insight into developing more effective policies and education programs that are specifically targeted towards vulnerable populations.

In a recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, Barker and colleagues compared physical activity between healthy individuals and those with chronic disease. Data from 96,706 participants, aged 40 and older, from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study was included. For each individual, physical activity data was recorded using a wrist-worn triaxial accelerometer for a total of 7 days. The resulting data was subsequently analyzed and classified into moderate and vigorous intensity exercise, which includes activities like taking a brisk walk and running, respectively.

Individuals with mental health disorders had the lowest activity

In summary, the study found that individuals with chronic disease tend to be less active than healthy individuals, even if their medical condition does not necessarily limit their exercise capacity. Specifically, healthy participants were found to spend one hour more on moderative activities and three minutes more on vigorous activity per week compared to chronic disease patients. Interestingly, those with mental health disorders had the lowest moderate activity, while cardiovascular disease patients had the lowest vigorous activity.

It is well known that physical activity is an effective strategy for managing certain chronic diseases and reducing the risk of developing new complications. While some chronic conditions may directly limit exercise capacity and prevent individuals from wanting to exercise, other conditions that do not necessarily affect exercise capacity were also found to be associated with reduced physical activity. It is reasonable to assume that this is likely because sick patients lack the motivation to exercise, even though it may be beneficial for their health.

In conclusion, based on the authors’ findings, more effective policies and education programs are needed to encourage individuals, both healthy and chronic disease patients, to exercise more regularly.

Written by Haisam Shah, BSc

Reference: Joseph Barker, Karl Smith Byrne, Aiden Doherty, Charlie Foster, Kazem Rahimi, Rema Ramakrishnan, Mark Woodward, Terence Dwyer; Physical activity of UK adults with chronic disease: cross-sectional analysis of accelerometer-measured physical activity in 96 706 UK Biobank participants, International Journal of Epidemiology.

Haisam Shah BSc
Haisam Shah BSc
Haisam is a first-year Masters student in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto. His research involves understanding the role of cardiac fibroblasts in the progressive development of cardiac fibrosis following a myocardial infarction. He graduated from McGill University with a Bachelors of Science – Honors in Pharmacology, where he had the opportunity of investigating potential combination therapies for Glioblastoma Multiforme.


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