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The one thing that helps in chronic disease

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Exercise, exercise and more exercise should be recommended to people with non-communicable chronic diseases, say Finnish researchers.

And it doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of exercise, or even what kind of chronic disease the patient has, according to a new umbrella review of 85 meta-analyses.

Aerobic exercise, resistance training, or a combination of both all improved functional capacity in roughly equal measure across 22 common chronic diseases, in randomised trials comparing exercise therapy with no treatment or usual care.

Chronic diseases in the review included osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease, heart failure, type 2 diabetes, various cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

The review encompassed 146 physical and functional capacity indicators, such as the six-minute walking test, maximal lower body muscle strength, balance tests and self-assessed ability to carry out everyday functions. Around 85% of these indicators were improved with exercise, with 20% showing large improvement.

These improvements were similar in both objective performance measurements and patients’ own assessment of their function.

At the same time, reported adverse events were no greater in exercise versus control groups.

The study authors from the University of Jvaskyla say research into exercise in chronic conditions has generally been more focused on risk factors, prevention and risk of death, and has often overlooked the importance of physical functioning.

Better function improves coping with daily living and may lessen pain and even disease progression, the researchers say. On a societal level, there are also economic benefits in reducing care needs of people with chronic conditions and improving their ability to live at home.

The authors suggest exercise therapy should be recommended to all patients with non-communicable chronic diseases, although training programs should be progressive and include follow-ups to monitor adherence, effectiveness or any adverse effects.

You can read the study here.