PCHC Positive Coping with Health Conditions
Physical Activity

“Regular exercise benefits everyone, especially people with chronic health problems. Regular exercise improves levels of strength, energy, and self-confidence, and lessens anxiety and depression. Exercise can help maintain a good weight, which takes stress off weight-bearing joints and improves blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood fat levels.”

Dr. Kate Lorig, Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions (2006).

Increasing physical activity is good for most people’s health. Being physically active can improve your health in a number of ways – giving you more energy, relieving stress, maintaining a healthy body weight and even preventing common health conditions (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer and others). If you have a health condition, thinking about how you might increase your level of physical activity is especially important.

While physical activity is beneficial for all health conditions, there may be certain kinds of physical activity that should be avoided. If you follow a physical activity program that is carefully planned with your healthcare providers, one that is gentle and enjoyable, you are likely to gain health benefits and a sense of wellbeing. There’s a lot about health conditions that you can’t control, but increasing physical activity is one thing you can control.

Activating Your Life

The Positive Coping Skill most helpful for increasing physical activity is Activating Your Life. That skill involves setting realistic goals and making a specific plan to reach these goals. Here are some things to keep in mind when you start a program to increase your physical activity:

Know Your Limits

As with any goal you set, it is important to be realistic when setting your physical activity goal. If you have a health condition, you should first check with your family physician or specialist to find out what kinds of activity goals are appropriate and safe given your situation. Your physician may ask you to do an exercise test to determine at what level you can safely be physically active. Use the Hurt-Harm Sheet (page 100). Find out from your physician the symptoms during physical activity that tell you that you are pushing too hard, or that you need to check with your physician. These kinds of symptoms are warning signs – by paying attention to them, you can be confident that you are not doing anything to negatively affect your health. Certain health conditions may require that you monitor signs and symptoms before, during or after physical activity (such as measuring blood sugar before and after, in those with diabetes). Make sure to ask your physician if this is needed for you. Remember to ask your healthcare provider to describe the warning signs and any additional monitoring you need to do, write them down and keep them in a notebook or folder where they won’t be misplaced.

Set a Realistic Activity Goal

Experts who have studied the effects of physical activity on health tell us that we should aim for at least 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. But that doesn’t mean that your first goal for the next two weeks should be 30-60 minutes of activity every day! Remember, the best way to make change in your physical activity is to begin with small changes. So, if you have been doing very little physical activity most days, then start with a modest change – for example, you might begin with the goal of doing a brisk 10-minute walk three times a week. If this physical activity goal becomes comfortable for you and you’re able to maintain it for a month or two, then you might want to increase the goal – maybe you’ll start walking for 10-15 minutes most days of the week. Eventually, by slowly increasing your goals, you will reach the recommended level. And remember to check with your physician to make sure that your activity goals are safe.

Something else to remember is that you don’t have to do 30-60 minutes of activity in one burst – you can add up your minutes of activity over the course of a day, maybe achieving 30 minutes of activity by taking three 10-minute walks. Being able to add up your minutes of activity makes it easier to reach the goal.

Choose the Most Comfortable Kind of Physical Activity

There are three main kinds of physical activity to choose from: Endurance, Flexibility or Strength and Balance. According to a physical activity guide published by Health Canada, these types of activity each have certain benefits:


  • Continuous activities that make you feel warm and breathe deeply
    • Increase your energy
    • Improve your heart, lungs and circulatory system


  • Gentle reaching, bending and stretching
    • Keep your muscles relaxed and joints mobile
    • Move more easily and be more agile

Strength and Balance

  • Lift weights, do resistance activities
    • Improve balance and posture
    • Keep muscles and bones strong
    • Prevent bone loss

Adapted from Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living


Experts recommend that you try to include physical activities from each of these categories. But if you can’t do that, do what you can – activate your life as much as you can, within realistic limits. Try to find activities that fit into your daily routine – maybe walking to a local store instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, moving around more inside your own home, getting in the habit of doing a gentle exercise routine at a certain time each day, or participating in exercise classes offered on television or on a DVD. Doing exercise with a friend or family member makes it easier to keep up your exercise habit – and helps you meet two goals at once: increasing physical fitness and social activity!