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Is it safe to exercise with chronic disease? Exercise tips for high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and more!

Has a chronic condition kept you from exercising? Learn how to safely navigate your fitness when living with heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and more.


Cardiovascular Disease

Background: Cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death among adults in the United States and has been for decades. The main cause of death is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack. CAD is a buildup of fat or plaque in the wall of the arteries.

Exercise tips:

-Obtain a doctor’s consent before participating in an exercise program

-Take blood pressure measurement before exercise. If systolic blood pressure is greater than 180, do not exercise

-Take blood pressure again after exercise

-Progress gradually

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Background: Approximately 50% of adults over 60 in the U.S. have high blood pressure. Fortunately, exercise reduces blood pressure and can help maintain healthy levels.

Exercise tips:

-Breathe! Holding your breath increases thoracic pressure. If you have a tendency to hold your breath during exercise, count your reps out loud to force a breathing pattern

-Take blood pressure measurement before exercise. If systolic blood pressure is greater than 180, do not exercise

-Take blood pressure again after exercise

Dyslipidemia (High Cholesterol)

Background: Dyslipidemia can actually mean high or low cholesterol, but people generally suffer from high cholesterol, particularly high LDL and low HDL.

Exercise tips:

-Perform aerobic exercise 5x per week, in 30 minute bouts

-Be on the lookout for serious muscle soreness or weakness beyond the norm as this might be a side effect of medication

Type 2 Diabetes

Background: The reality is Type 2 Diabetes is a disease of lifestyle – specifically, poor diet and inactivity. Physical activity improves glucose control. Since skeletal muscle is the largest glucose consuming muscle in the body, exercise and diet can ultimately reverse Type 2 Diabetes.

Exercise tips:

-Do not exercise if blood sugar is above 250

-Keep sugar on hand in the event of hypoglycemia

-Avoid exercise that increases blood pressure

-Keep a consistent routine, balancing both strength training and cardio 3-5 times per week


Background: COPD prevents air from entering and leaving the lungs. It reduces the body’s ability to exchange gases between lungs and blood. COPD is the 4th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. Exercise improves alveolar gas exchange, enhances cardiovascular function, and improves respiratory muscle endurance.

Exercise tips:

-Progress slowly! Tolerance for exercise will be low to start – and that’s ok!

-Monitor rate of perceived exertion and scale down accordingly

-Be sure to breathe properly to avoid shortness of breath

-Avoid exercises that induce shortness of breath

-Avoid isometric exercises that may build up pressure in the body and make it difficult to breathe

-Exercise with good posture to reduce likelihood of shortness of breath


Background: Arthritis is the most common chronic condition with about 50% of adults over 65 experiencing arthritis somewhere in the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune) and osteoarthritis are the most common forms of arthritis. Exercise is important in maintaining joint integrity.

Exercise tips:

-Avoid high impact movements

-Avoid sudden jerking/jarring such as running or jumping

-Use circuit training to maximize work:rest ratio and allow the joints adequate recovery

-Progress slowly

-Avoid excessive range of motion if you have a joint replacement

-Don’t stay in static or fixed position too long to avoid stiffness

-Do not perform any exercise that gives you pain during or after


Background: Osteoporosis is low mineral density of bones. While postmenopausal women are most at risk, men over 70 are also at risk of osteoporosis. The most common sites of osteoporosis are the wrist, thoracic spine, and proximal femur. Physical activity is critical to mitigate age related bone loss.

Exercise tips:

-Weight bearing exercise helps preserve bone mass

-High intensity resistance training with heavy loads increases bone density

-Avoid significant increases in spinal flexion

-Avoid fast, jerky movements of spine

-Use high loads when resistance training to encourage bone building; weights should be heavy enough to feel fatigue at 6-8 reps (of course, “heavy” is relative – listen to your body)

-Use diaphragmatic breathing

Low Back Pain

Background: 80% of older adults suffer from low back pain. While inadequate core strength is part of the story, lumbar spinal stenosis is a common side effect of aging. Low back pain can cause deficits in motor skills, poor postural stability, and ineffective coupling of pelvic muscles. Exercise can improve core stabilization and strengthen muscles which will relieve pain.

Exercise tips:

-Avoid any exercise that causes pain during or after

-Work within pain free range of motion and reduce as needed

-Work on lower body flexibility to reduce stress on lower back and allow greater pelvic mobility


Notice a theme? The key is to keep moving! We can help. Questions? Drop us a note and we’ll get back to you.

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