Chronic Illness

Chronic diseases are already the major cause of death in almost all countries, and the threat to people’s lives, their health and the economic development of their countries is growing fast. Effective and cost-effective interventions, and the knowledge to implement them, have been shown to work in many countries. If existing interventions are used together as part of a comprehensive, integrated approach, the global goal for preventing chronic diseases can be achieved. The only question is how governments’, the private sector and civil society can work together to put such approaches into practice. If they do so the global goal for chronic disease prevention and control will be achieved and millions of lives will be saved.


What Is a Chronic Disease?

Stephanie Bernell and Steven W. Howard

Within professional communities (i.e., medical, public health, academic, and policy), there is a large degree of variation in the use of the term chronic disease. For example, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) classify the following as chronic diseases: heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. The Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services have a more extensive list of 19 chronic conditions that includes Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and HIV, to name a few. This difference, within the Department of Health and Human Services alone, although not surprising to those in the field, has the potential to create confusion and misunderstanding when speaking in generalities about the impact of chronic disease, the cost of chronic disease, and overall measures to reduce chronic disease.

The World Health Organization states that chronic diseases,

are not passed from person to person. They are of long duration and generally slow progression. The four main types … are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes .

However it is generally agreed that Chronic Illness can be defined by:-

  • complex causality, with multiple factors leading to their onset
  • a long development period, for which there may be no symptoms
  • a prolonged course of illness, perhaps leading to other health complications


A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.


Benefits of exercise for  Cancer

Following a well-designed exercise plan during and after treatment may be able to:

  • Lower the chance of having physical side effects, such as fatigue, neuropathy, lymphedema, osteoporosis, and nausea
  • Reduce the risk of depression and anxiety
  • Keep you as mobile and independent as possible
  • Improve your balance to reduce fall injuries
  • Prevent muscle loss and build strength
  • Prevent weight gain and obesity, which are linked to increased cancer risk
  • Improve sleep
  • Decrease the amount of time you need to stay in the hospital
  • Make your treatment more effective at destroying tumour cells
  • Improve survival rates for certain cancers, such as breast cancer and colorectal cancer
  • Reduce the risk of other cancers
  • Prevent other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes
  • Improve quality of life


Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In MS  the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibres, and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.

Benefits of Exercise and MS

In addition to being essential to general health and well-being, exercise is helpful in managing many MS symptoms. A study published by researchers at the University of Utah in 1996 was the first to demonstrate the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Those patients who participated in an aerobic exercise program benefited from:

  • better cardiovascular fitness
  • improved strength
  • better bladder and bowel function
  • less fatigue and depression
  • a more positive attitude
  • increased participation in social activities

Additional studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise, including improvement in cognitive function and mood enhancement. Inactivity in people with or without MS can result in numerous health problems including many risk factors associated with coronary heart disease, muscle weakness, decreased bone density, and shallow, inefficient breathing.



Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which leads over time to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. The most common is type 2 diabetes, usually in adults, which occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin. Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin by itself.


Benefits of exercising for diabetes

Some people worry that being physically active will be too tiring or make their diabetes harder to manage. 

And if you’re someone who gets hypos, you’re probably worried about getting more. But activity doesn’t always make your blood sugar levels go down – it can make them go up too. We’ve made a guide to blood sugar levels and exercise to help you.

That’s a lot of worries and they’re all understandable. But we’re here to bust these myths and make sure you know all the important benefits of exercising when you have diabetes.

Benefits of being active with diabetes include:

  • helps the body use insulin better
  • helps you look after your blood pressure, because high blood pressure means you’re more at risk of diabetes complications
  • helps to improve cholesterol (blood fats) to help protect against problems like heart disease 
  • helps you lose weight if you need to, and keep the weight off after you’ve lost it – there are so many more benefits to losing extra weight 
  • gives you energy and helps you sleep
  • helps your joints and flexibility
  • benefits your mind as well as your body – exercise releases endorphins, which you could think of as happy hormones. Being active is proven to reduce stress levels and improve low mood.  
  • and for people with Type 2 diabetes, being active helps improve your HbA1c.

Being active is even more beneficial if you do things like make healthier food choices, don’t smoke and get enough sleep.

Managing blood sugars when being active

There’s no single way to manage your blood sugars, because everyone manages their diabetes differently. We’ve put together some tips to help, but talk to your diabetes healthcare team for more advice. 

Here are some things that might help:

  • If you normally check blood sugars, keep a record of what happens when you’re being active and show this to your diabetes nurse or doctor. 
  • If you’re at risk of hypos, keep hypo treatments handy. And a snack with some carbs in.
  • Wear diabetes ID so people around you can help if they need to.
  • If you use insulin to treat your diabetes, you might need to make changes to the dose you give around exercise.



Fibromyalgia, also called fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

As well as widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also have:

  • increased sensitivity to pain
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • muscle stiffness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • problems with mental processes (known as “fibro-fog”), such as problems with memory and concentration
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating


Benefits of Exercise for Fibromyalgia

As extreme tiredness (fatigue) and pain are 2 of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia, you may find that you’re not able to exercise as much as you’d like.

But an exercise programme specially suited to your condition can help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall health.

Your GP or physiotherapist may be able to refer you to a health professional who specialises in helping people with fibromyalgia work out an exercise plan.

The plan is likely to involve a mixture of aerobic and strengthening exercises.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic activities are any kind of rhythmic, moderate-intensity exercises that increase your heart rate and make you breathe harder.

Research suggests that aerobic fitness exercises should be included in your personalised exercise plan, even if you cannot complete these at a high level of intensity.

A review of a number of studies found aerobic exercises may improve quality of life and relieve pain.

As aerobic exercises increase your endurance (how long you can keep going), these may also help you function better on a day-to-day basis. 

Resistance and strengthening exercises

Resistance and strengthening exercises are those that focus on strength training, such as lifting weights.

These exercises need to be planned as part of a personalised exercise programme. If they’re not, muscle stiffness and soreness could be made worse.

A review of a number of studies concluded that strengthening exercises may improve:

  • muscle strength
  • physical disability
  • depression
  • quality of life

People with fibromyalgia who completed the strengthening exercises in these studies said they felt less tired, could function better and experienced a boost in mood.

Improving the strength of your major muscle groups can make it easier to do aerobic exercises.


The term obese describes a person who’s very overweight, with a lot of body fat.

Obesity is a common problem in the UK and it is estimated to affect around 1 in every 4 adults and around 1 in every 5 children aged 10 to 11 ( see GO Junior).

Poor diet

Obesity does not happen overnight. It develops gradually over time.

Eating large amounts of processed or fast food – that’s high in fat and sugar

  • drinking too much alcohol – alcohol contains a lot of calories, and people who drink heavily are often overweight
  • eating out a lot – you may be tempted to also have a starter or dessert in a restaurant, and the food can be higher in fat and sugar
  • eating larger portions than you need – you may be encouraged to eat too much if your friends or relatives are also eating large portions
  • drinking too many sugary drinks – including soft drinks and fruit juice
  • comfort eating – if you have low self-esteem or feel depressed, you may eat to make yourself feel better

Lack of physical activity

Lack of physical activity is another important factor related to obesity. Many people have jobs that involve sitting at a desk for most of the day. They also rely on their cars, rather than walking or cycling.

For relaxation, many people tend to watch TV, browse the internet or play computer games, and rarely take regular exercise.

If you’re not active enough, you do not use the energy provided by the food you eat, and the extra energy you consume is stored by the body as fat.

The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week. This does not need to be done all in a single session, but can be broken down into smaller periods. For example, you could exercise for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week.

If you’re obese and trying to lose weight, you may need to do more exercise than this. It may help to start off slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do each week.


Mental Health

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems


Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health.

Apart from the known physical benefits of exercise, it also improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigour.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero