According to Everyday Health’s Special Report: State of Women’s Wellness 2017, 21 percent of those surveyed cited fitness as a factor that positively affects their personal wellness. Fitness ranked higher than other factors, such as relationships and financial security, but the vast majority of women said it had no effect on — or even negatively affected — their well-being. This suggests that many women either aren’t sure how fitness can practically improve their lives, or how to effectively make it part of their wellness routine.
The survey results are consistent with the fact that nearly 80 percent of adults don’t meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2008. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), women are even less likely than men to meet the guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
Fact: Fitness Can Prevent Disease, Save Lives
Most of us know that exercise is good for you. People who are physically active tend to live longer and lower their risk for disease. On the other hand, the negative health implications of physical inactivity are significant — inadequate levels of exercise are associated with $117 billion in annual healthcare costs, according to data in a study published in 2015 in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 10 premature deaths in this country could be prevented by exercise. In terms of specific health conditions, physical activity could prevent:
The physical and mental health benefits of exercise include:
- Preventing weight gain
- Improving aerobic fitness, balance, and mobility
- Improving bone and muscle health
- Improving cognitive function and mental health
- Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease
There are also less obvious health benefits to physical activity, such as improving blood flow to the skin, which can stave off signs of aging; triggering the release of endorphins that promote positive emotions; and reducing the premenstrual symptoms of fatigue and depression.
Is Fitness a Challenge or an Opportunity? The Answer Is Both
Women surveyed by Everyday Health also ranked fitness as one of their top wellness challenges — along with factors such as stress and lack of sleep. This may be due, in part, to the reasons people commonly cite for not exercising, from not having enough time or access to resources such as parks and gyms, to a lack of motivation and confidence.
But for many individuals, health conditions that could benefit from varying levels of activity pose the greatest fitness challenge of all. Chronic conditions affect nearly half of all adults, according to the CDC, and managing a condition or illness was the top-ranked wellness challenge among women in the Everyday Health survey. The symptoms associated with chronic conditions, such as pain and fatigue, become obstacles to physical activity.
Case in Point: Psoriatic Disease and Fitness
As a senior editor at Everyday Health, I cover psoriatic disease — psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. There are 7.5 million Americans living with psoriasis, making it the most prevalent autoimmune disease in this country. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, approximately 30 percent of those people will develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes painful joint swelling and stiffness.
For people with psoriatic arthritis, physical activity can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Yet even light to moderate exercise can help maintain the muscle strength and joint mobility that are critical to managing the disease. Range-of-motion exercises, strength training, and endurance exercises may also be options, depending on the severity of the disease.
Researchers found that people with arthritis who did at least 45 minutes of moderate exercise a week were 80 percent more likely to maintain or even improve their physical function over two years, according to a study published in February 2017 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
Exercise can also reduce the risk of developing comorbidities common to people with psoriatic disease, likely the result of systemic inflammation. According to a study published in December 2015 in the International Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, psoriatic arthritis is associated with an increased risk for conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study cites related research recommending that patients review physical activity goals with their rheumatologist at least once yearly.
Beyond Psoriatic Disease: Fitness and Other Conditions
Apart from providing general health benefits, physical fitness can help manage many conditions other than psoriatic disease. Among them:
Rheumatoid Arthritis A review published in the Journal of Aging Research found that properly designed exercise programs increased muscle mass and improved physical function in rheumatoid arthritis patients without exacerbating the disease or joint damage.
Multiple Sclerosis According to research published in August 2016 in the journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, exercise has been associated with a reduced relapse rate, lower lesion volume, and improved mobility in people with multiple sclerosis.
Cancer A review published online in the journal Recent Results in Cancer Research found that the risk of breast cancer was 25 percent lower in women who were the most physically active compared with those who were least active. A study published in June 2016 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that leisure-time physical activity was associated with a lower risk of 13 types of cancer.
There’s no one-size-fits all formula for optimizing the role fitness plays in your wellness. To find the best fitness plan for you, the Personal Activity Guidelines suggest considering three factors. First, identify the benefits of physical activities that are of most value to you. Second, set personal goals that are realistic, safe, and planned out with your healthcare provider. Finally, develop the knowledge that you need to reach those fitness goals and guide your overall wellness.
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