Physical activity is the best medicine of them all 1 February 2014 When it comes to the treatment of many chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and arthritis, many studies have shown that regular physical activity is just as important in helping to manage your condition as any medicine you are taking. Does this mean that you can throw away your tablets? No, you should never, ever stop taking a medication unless your doctor has told you so. However, doing regular physical activity (along with eating a balanced diet) may help to reduce the amount of medication you are taking or can help to prevent you from needing medication in the first place. How does physical activity work like your medications? Diabetes Regular physical activity can help to lower your blood glucose levels (BGLs) in a couple of different ways. Firstly, when you are more active, your working muscles are demanding more glucose to use as energy. So, physical activity helps to use up more glucose from the blood. Secondly, when you are more active your muscles become much more sensitive to the insulin in your body, helping the glucose to flow more easily into your muscle cells. Depending on how hard and how long you exercise for, your muscle cells may continue to stay sensitive to your insulin for up to 24 hours. People who are on insulin or taking certain types of diabetes medication may be at risk of hypoglycaemia (very low BGLs) when exercising. Talk to your doctor and diabetes healthcare team about how to prevent and manage hypoglycaemia. Anxiety and depression Many studies have shown that regular physical activity can be just as effective as medication for helping to treat anxiety and some forms of depression. Physical activity activates the pleasure centres in your brain and releases hormones that make you feel happier and more relaxed. It also boosts your self-esteem so that you feel better about yourself. Some forms of physical activity, such as team sports, are also social which can help to make you feel more supported. Arthritis Although medication is often a part of the treatment plan for arthritis, regular, gentle physical activity can help to improve some of the symptoms by helping the movement of fluid in and out of the joints, improving joint mobility and strength. People with arthritis should choose the type of physical activity carefully and always get advice from your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist before starting any exercise. Cardiovascular disease Regular physical activity can help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering your blood pressure, decreasing triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood) and increasing the amount of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) in your blood. Regular aerobic activity (e.g. activity that makes you â€™huff and puffâ€˜) can also improve the strength of your heart and lungs so that you are able to breathe easier and your heart can pump blood around the body easier. Points to remember: Never, ever stop taking a medication unless your doctor has told you to. Always have your health checked and talk with your doctor and diabetes team before starting any new type of activity. To gain the health benefits of physical activity, you need to do it regularly. The occasional physical activity session isnâ€™t going to give you these health benefits, you need to be consistent with doing activity most days of the week. Choose activities that you enjoy, so you are more likely to make them a regular habit.