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Just as everyone knows water is wet, the fact that exercise is good for you is common knowledge. However, as with many things in our daily lives, it comes with its own set of risks. In this article Dr Taher Mahmud of the London Osteoporosis Clinic discusses the ways that exercise can help your body, and how you can use it to your advantage rather than putting it under additional strain.

Exercise and common associated risks

The risks related to exercise are much, much fewer than the benefits associated with it. One of the most common occurrences is a musculoskeletal injury. These include strains, tears, stress fractures, traumatic fractures, and inflammation. Whilst injuries like this are relatively common, they are also less serious and the body can usually recover, particularly with the correct course of treatment. Some ways to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury include:

  • Regularly exercising so your body gets in the habit
  • Warming up before exercising, and stretching correctly after the exercise session is over
  • Knowing your limits, and participating in activities which are right for your body and its capabilities
  • Improving muscle strength and balance

Exercise and more serious risk

Some of the more serious risks surrounding exercise relate to cardiac problems, particularly in those who have a past history of heart problems. Arrhythmia, which refers to an irregular heartbeat, carries an increased risk during exercise. In those with heart problems, regular check-ups with a doctor are advised, but studies show that exercise training may reduce arrhythmia risk.

Habitual physical activity can help to lower the risk of cardiac problems, even in the case of rarer heart conditions such as sudden cardiac death. In those who have a history of heart problems, exercise programs should be planned and tailored to the individual. There are a number of ways to approach exercise, including endurance training, interval training, and resistance training.

In those with asthma or other respiratory conditions, care should be taken to avoid bronchoconstriction, a narrowing of the airways in the lungs. Many with these conditions can reduce the risk by altering their training techniques and taking certain medications.

Many of the risks associated with exercise are related to pre-existing conditions, or the incorrect management of medical conditions. With the correct approach to exercise, and where appropriate, medical advice and monitoring, risks can be greatly reduced and should be no reason to avoid regular exercise. If in doubt it is best to seek help from a exercise professional; at the London Osteoporosis Clinic we published some exercise videos to help with correct technique, and give our patients further support.

For many people, exercise is a way of life – not to be missed, and not to be taken lightly. While of course there is such a thing as overdoing it, the benefits exercise brings us are not to be avoided. It should be a part of everyday life, both for the here and now and to help reduce the risk of certain conditions developing in the future. In our last interview with Dr Taher Mahmud of the London Osteoporosis Clinic, we discussed the risks exercise can carry. Now it’s time to move on to the benefits. How can exercise improve our lives?

Our first point should definitely be enough to convince you – exercise helps you live longer. Studies of elite athletes have shown that they have 67% lower mortality compared with the general public. Even by finding the time to walk an extra ten minutes a day can help you improve your lifespan – almost by an extra two years. The more exercise you do, the larger this figure becomes.

Other benefits gained from exercise:

  • Cardiac benefits – habitual exercise can reduce the risk of coronary disease, cardiovascular death, and other cardiac conditions, even in the case of secondary prevention (after already experiencing complications of a heart condition)
  • Weight benefits – exercise to prevent or treat obesity is incredibly effective, and can contribute to a great loss in body fat, compared to simply following a weight loss diet alone.
  • Cancer prevention and treatment – there is evidence to suggest that exercise may provide some protection against certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate, endometrial, intestinal, colon, and pancreatic cancer. For example, in women, oestrogen is thought to encourage development of breast cancer. Exercise helps to reduce levels of oestrogen, and therefore may help to reduce the risk.
  • Osteoporosis prevention – weightbearing exercise is proven to increase our levels of bone density, building up bone in order to help protect from weakening and fractures later on in life. Even in those with osteoporosis, exercise can help reduce the risk of fracture, when tailored to the patient and their needs.
  • Mental health – our levels of stress, anxiety and even depression can be affected by regular exercise. In those who suffer from depression, exercise is recommended as a positive influence and can help to improve self-esteem.
  • Cognitive health – it is thought that exercise may help to reduce the risk of dementia and other cognitive decline, particularly in older patients. Exercise is directly linked to improved cognitive function. Even in those with dementia, exercise and being active is important, as it has a direct impact on their wellbeing and can significantly improve their quality of life.

It’s not just serious conditions – exercise can help even in small ways, such as through boosting our energy levels, improving our quality of sleep, building muscle tone, lowering blood pressure, and feeling fitter and healthier.

There are many different ways to exercise, and whether it is to help with an existing condition, or as a preventative measure, it should be a part of our everyday lives. The good points of exercise far outweigh the risks – everyone can benefit from being physically active.