Medical aspects of exercise: risks and benefits

Medical aspects of exercise: risks and benefits


The benefits of regular exercise are taken for granted by some and questioned by others. Even within the medical profession, the influence of exercise on the maintenance of good health and its role in the treatment of some medical conditions is not always appreciated.

This report from the Royal College of Physicians, published in 1991, sets down what is known of the benefits of exercise to body and mind in healthy people and in those with medical conditions, including heart disease and asthma. The report concentrates on exercise for the non-athlete, but data on the trained athlete is included where it relates to important physiological modifications or risks for the individual.

The damages to health of inactivity are stressed - they include poor cardiovascular function, weakness of muscles and reduced bone density. Most people now take so little exercise that merely walking for a short time at a normal pace may be more than they can tolerate. Those who are inactive due to a sedentary lifestyle do not realise how impaired is their capacity for physical activity because of low energy reserves. However, the adverse physiological changes due to inactivity can be reversed by regular exercise

As well as describing the benefits of exercise for elderly people, the report recommends that adequate resources should be available for children and the young. The habit of regular exercise is most easily and beneficially acquired at an early age.


  • Exercise: the basic physiology
  • Physiological changes following regular exercise
  • Exercise and cardiovascular disease
  • Exercise and respiratory disease
  • Effect of exercise on the musculoskeletal system in health, disease and disability
  • Effect of exercise on bone and the reproductive system
  • Exercise in the control of diabetes mellitus and obesity
  • Exercise and medical conditions in childhood
  • Exercise and the elderly
  • Risks of physical exercise

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Medical aspects of exercise: risks and benefits