Chronic diseases: physical activity as “medicine”

Home Chronic diseases: physical activity as “medicine”
Written by Doug Hampton

Diabetes, cancer, arterial hypertension… For a long time, patients suffering from a chronic illness have forbidden themselves the practice of physical activity. However, the latter brings many benefits and participates in the control of the disease.

Physical activity and chronic diseases are not incompatible… On the contrary. We know that physical activity always reduces the risk of developing a chronic disease. But when it has declared itself, the activity always improves the patient’s quality of life, often slows down complications and morbidity and reduces mortality. It is also the only non-drug therapy currently recognized. Let’s take a quick (non-exhaustive) overview.

Cardiovascular illnesses

Contrary to what one might think, physical activity is possible and even recommended. In people with hypertension, for example, an endurance sport, practiced until the onset of shortness of breath for at least half an hour three times a week, can lower blood pressure. For patients who have suffered a myocardial infarction, moderate endurance activity under medical supervision helps to recover more quickly.


Asthmatics are particularly concerned about exercise-induced asthma. In addition to shortness of breath – which can also be due to a lack of training – it is mainly manifested by wheezing and coughing. However, by performing a good muscle warm-up and gradually increasing the intensity of the effort, people with asthma can practice most sports (with the exception of scuba diving and horse riding). and derive beneficial effects.


In the case of cancer, maintaining appropriate physical activity improves the quality of life. We then speak of “adapted” activity because the conditions of practice vary according to the patients according to the state of health, the treatments and the wishes and individual possibilities.

For the patients, the activity makes it possible to fight against certain undesirable effects of the treatments, but also against the stress or the difficulties of sleep inherent to the disease. The risk of mortality would also be reduced.

Neurodegenerative diseases

Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis… So many disabling pathologies. “However, they do not totally exclude the practice of sport which can also help to maintain a longer relative autonomy.“, explains the Vidal on his website. “The French Federation of adapted sport allows people affected by this type of disease to register in many disciplines.”


Diabetics know it well: the disease damages their blood vessels and increases the risk of suffering a cardiovascular disorder.“, recalls the French Federation of Cardiology. “They are therefore recommended to practice regular physical activity which will have the opposite effects: better oxygenation of the tissues, preservation ofendothelium (inner wall) of the vessels, decrease in oxidative stress, decrease in blood viscosity and stimulation of the development of new capillaries blood. Enough to put the odds on your side to avoid an accident.


Again, because it causes seizures, epilepsy often causes patients to abstain from sports. However, numerous studies have shown that physical exercise does not aggravate the disease. Quite the contrary… It allows better control of crises. Provided you choose your sport well. Avoid: scuba diving, combat sports or violent sports.

To note : The only imperative when one is carrying a chronic disease is to be well framed. It is important to assess the patient’s level of physical activity through an interview and/or simple tests. Some athletes like tennis player Alexander Zverev (suffering from diabetes), swimmer Alain Bernard (who suffers from asthma) or cyclist Marion Clignet (who is epileptic) show that chronic illness is not incompatible with high level.

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