Exercise and Chronic Disease – What Is Exercise Snacking?

Do you feel limited with exercise because of chronic disease? Perhaps you have pain, fatigue, or weakness that make exercise difficult. Exercise snacking may be one way to overcome these limitations.

If you are living with a chronic illness, there are benefits to regular exercise. (1,2)

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Benefits of exercising with chronic disease

Exercise may help you manage several symptoms of chronic disease or illness. (1,2)

  • Aerobic activities improve heart health, build stamina, and lower blood pressure. For instance brisk walking, swimming, or biking are good aerobic activities.
  • Strengthening exercises help with daily activities. For example, standing from a chair or climbing stairs need good leg strength.
  • Non weight-bearing activities, like cycling or water aerobics, decrease joint stiffness. Similarly, these kinds of exercises may help with joint pain.
  • Exercise helps control diabetes and blood sugar levels.

Exercise may also slow the progression of some diseases, like Parkinson’s Disease.

If you are able, aim for 30 of continuous exercise, 4-5 days a week.

But for some people living with chronic disease, exercise can be difficult. For instance, exercising with a chronic condition can be challenging if you:

  • grow tired quickly (poor endurance).
  • have fluctuating symptoms, making it difficult to make or keep plans
  • are dependent on someone to drive you to a gym.
  • worry about hurting yourself with exercise.
  • experience pain.

If one of these scenarios describes you, exercise snacking might be a solution.

So, what is exercise snacking?

Exercise snacking means performing exercises throughout the day in small doses. In a recent study, older, healthy adults improved leg strength and muscle mass with short episodes of exercise. (3) In addition, standing from a chair and power (the ability to rise quickly) improved too.

Participants performed exercises 2-3 times a day. Each episode of exercise included 5 activities. Participants performed each activity for one minute. After that, they rested a minute before moving onto the next exercise. The following exercises were included in the study:

  • standing from a chair
  • extending legs in and out while seated
  • standing and bending legs behind one at a time
  • marching in place and
  • standing up on toes.

No equipment was used for any of the exercises, so all individuals could easily participate.

Benefits of Exercise Snacking

The benefits of exercise snacking for individuals living with a chronic condition include:

  • short bouts of exercise, about 10 minutes in length. So, if you tire quickly, this is a good option to gradually build endurance.
  • you are in control of when you exercise. You don’t have to wait for someone to drive you to the gym.
  • requires little or no equipment. The program above used no equipment. If you need more of a challenge, add weights. Start with a light weight and gradually increase the weight. The weight is too heavy if you cannot perform about 10 repetitions in one minute.
  • safety. You can exercise sitting in a chair. If you worry about balance, hold onto a chair during exercise to decrease the risk of falls.
  • simplicity. No large exercise machines to adjust. Also, noo waiting for someone else to finish.

Be sure to add a variety of exercises at home. For example, include exercises for your arms and legs. Walk for 5 minutes around the house or out to the mailbox and back if you can. Also, practice balance activities with safety precautions.

Precautions to Exercise with Chronic Illness

If you live with a chronic condition, exercise is important to manage symptoms. However, exercising with a chronic disease is not always easy. If you are unsure what exercises are right for you, seek help. For instance, a physician, physical therapist or personal trainer can suggest appropriate exercises.

Finally, some chronic conditions have precautions for exercise. For example, exercise can lower blood sugar levels. This is good for diabetics. But, if you have diabetes and take medicine to lower your blood sugar levels, be careful when you exercise. Taking medication too close to exercise could cause a dangerous drop in blood sugars. Always consult with your physician before you begin any exercise program.

In conclusion, exercise has benefits if you have a chronic disease or illness. However, you should be approved for exercise by your physician before you start. In addition, a physical therapist can help determine the right exercises for you.

Aimee Reiss, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Wellness Coach


  1. Exercise and chronic disease: get the facts.  Mayo Clinc Web site. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049).  Accessed April 20, 2020.
  2. Mastroianni, B. Why being fit helps you manage chronic disease.  Everyday Health Web site. https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/why-being-fit-helps-you-manage-chronic-diseases/.  Updated May 23, 208.  Accessed April 20, 2020.
  3. Perkin OJ, McGuiganPM, and Stokes, KA. Exercise Snacking to Improve Muscle Function in Healthy Older Adults: A Pilot Study. Journal of Aging Research. 2019.

Disclaimer: This blog is a resource through which you may obtain information regarding your health and wellness.  Information is intended for the general reader and is not a substitute for medical advice.  The content in this blog is intended to be informational only and not interpreted as specific advice for you.  There may be delays, omissions, or inaccuracies in information contained in this blog. You should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional who is familiar with your health and past medical history before making any changes you may read about in this blog.

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