5 health conditions that can benefit from exercise

The Bottom Line

  • Exercise is important for optimal aging.
  • Research shows that exercise can hold a variety of health benefits for people living with urinary incontinence, coronary heart disease, peripheral artery disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and overweight or obesity.
  • Living with a health condition? Speak with your health care team to determine whether exercise is an appropriate strategy for you, and how to safely integrate it into your routine. 

A new year has arrived. As we start this next chapter, many of us will be looking to our list of New Year’s resolutions for guidance. Stressing less, spending more time with loved ones, eating a balanced and nutritious diet, and achieving or maintaining a healthy weight are some of the most common resolutions people set each year. Perhaps none are more common than the E word… Yes, exercise! We know it is good for us, which is why it keeps making its way back onto our list. To keep us motivated to sticking with our exercise-related aspirations, let us look at five health conditions that benefit from engaging in exercise. Click on the links below to learn more.

1. Urinary incontinence

Squeeze, relax, repeat (1). From strength to power to endurance, pelvic floor muscle training involves exercises that aim to improve various aspects of our pelvic floor muscles (1;2). Research shows that in women with different forms of urinary incontinence, this form of training can either help to cure or improve their condition (1).

2. Coronary heart disease

Ranging from education to psychological support, cardiac rehabilitation can involve a diverse set of stand-alone or combined strategies. Like the name suggests, exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation is centered on exercise. Research shows that in people living with coronary heart disease, exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation can lower the risk of heart attack, hospital admission, and death from any cause. Health-related quality of life can also be enhanced. These benefits are seen in the short-term (3). 

3. Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) reduces blood flow to affected areas of the body—such as the legs, which are a commonly impacted site (4;5). Research shows that in individuals living with PAD in their legs, structured home-based exercise programs can boost physical activity levels and walking distance in the short-term (5).    

4. Rheumatoid arthritis

Lack of information and fear can stop us from doing a lot. For some people living with rheumatoid arthritis, one of these things is exercise (6-8). Research shows that both aerobic exercise and strength training—alone or in combination with one another—may improve symptoms and outcomes in this population. This includes improvements related to indicators of physical fitness and inflammation, physical function, walking time, pain, and fatigue. Potential benefits vary by exercise type (6).  

5. Overweight or obesity

Walk the walk! Research shows that in women living with overweight or obesity, walking can reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol. These positive outcomes are seen even without additional diet or weight-loss interventions (9).    

The new year presents an opportunity to commit to healthier behaviours that are associated with positive health outcomes. With that said, exercising while living with a health condition can be daunting. Consult with your health care team about if, and when, it is appropriate for you to integrate exercise into your routine, what exercises or programs are best for you, and how to safely engage in these activities.      

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Author Details


  1. Dumoulin C, Cacciari LP, Hay-Smith EJC. Pelvic floor muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence in women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018; 10:CD005654. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005654.pub4.
  2. Bø K, Frawley H, Haylen BT, et al. An International Urogynecological Association (IUGA)/International Continence Society (ICS) joint report on the terminology for the conservative and nonpharmacological management of female pelvic floor dysfunction. Neurourol Urodyn. 2017; 28(2):191-213.  
  3. Dibben G, Faulkner J, Oldridge N, et al. Exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation for coronary heart disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021; 11:CD001800. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001800.pub4.
  4. Mayo Clinic. Peripheral artery disease (PAD). [Internet] 2021. [cited February 2021]. Available from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-artery-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350557 
  5. Golledge J, Singh TP, Alahakoon C, et al. Meta-analysis of clinical trials examining the benefit of structured home exercise in patients with peripheral artery disease. Br J Surg. 2019; 106:319-331.
  6. Hu H, Xu A, Gao C, et al. The effect of physical exercise on rheumatoid arthritis: An overview of systematic reviews and meta-analysis. J Adv Nurs. 2021; 77:506-522.
  7. Veldhuijzen van Zanten JJCS, Rouse PC, Hale ED, et al. Perceived barriers, facilitators and benefits for regular physical activity and exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: A review of the literature. Sports Med. 2015; 45(10):1401-1412. 
  8. Larkin L, Kennedy N, Fraser A, et al. “It might hurt, but still it’s good”: People with rheumatoid arthritis beliefs and expectations about physical activity interventions. J Health Psychol. 2017; 22(13):1678-1690.
  9. Ballard AM, Davis A, Wong B, et al. The effects of exclusive walking on lipids and lipoproteins in women with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Health Promot. 2022; 36:328-39. doi: 10.1177/08901171211048135.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.