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Sport: a source of youth?

Swiss Alp Health took part in the Swiss Sports Medicine Congress in Interlaken on 24–25 October. It was an opportunity to remind ourselves that mobility is an essential element of quality of life.

According to Dr med. Boris Gojanovic, a sports doctor and general internal medicine specialist at Hôpital de La Tour in Meyrin (Geneva), Switzerland, moderate sports practice leads to many different benefits. However, a large proportion of adults do not take the time to exercise and experience a great deal of stress, leading to weight gain and joint problems.

10 minutes of walking reduces the risk of mortality by 15%

Regular physical activity reduces mortality, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, osteoarthritis, back pain, frequency of falls in the elderly, cancer, depression and dementia.1 It also compensates for the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles without posing a serious health risk.

Motivation: a key element

Motivation is linked to our emotional brain. Establishing a personalised programme that takes individuals’ schedules into account makes continuing the activity easier in the long term. Implementing such a program also allows the patient to make use of every free moment during the day.

From motivation to habit

Implementing new habits often corresponds to a change in lifestyle. According to Prof. Dr med. Martin Halle, Head of the Centre for Preventive and Sports Medicine and Sports Cardiology at the University Hospital in Munich, Germany, there are three key elements that promote long-term sports practice:

  1. To know our individual health status and physical capacity, in order to be able to visualise the changes we are capable of making.
  2. To understand the reason why we want to undertake this process, in order to be able to set our goals, pinpoint our limits and find strategies to get around them.
  3. To put our own health and exercise ideas at the centre and build around them to establish a personalised and precise exercise plan, including regular feedback from our doctor or health professional.

Prof. Dr med. Halle also notes the importance of longer-term nutrition and supervision.

A benefit for people with diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes generally appears due to a deregulated lifestyle (overweight, high-sugar diet, sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors, etc). This exhausts the pancreas – limiting insulin secretion – and the other cells, which become resistant to insulin and no longer absorb blood glucose.

Physical activity increases the sensitivity of cells to insulin and the melting of fat tissue, allowing them to enter a virtuous cycle.

180 minutes of exercise per week, combining endurance with some muscle resistance, improves blood glucose control, cardiovascular profile, weight loss and body balance, thereby increasing quality of life and reducing the risk of death. However, Prof. Dr med. Halle stresses the importance of medical follow-ups, as some kinds of therapy may require medication adjustments.2

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune genetic disease that develops at a relatively young age and is caused by the immune system attacking the pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

Sport helps patients to reduce diabetes-related complications and mortality risks, and maintain a healthy body (blood pressure, BMI, fat level) and a good response to insulin medication. Those with sporting ambitions require specialised medical follow-ups and advice in order to adjust their treatment and diet, so as to avoid putting themselves in danger. Some people with diabetes, like Gary Hall Jr, Jan Neuenschwander and Matthias Steiner have even become top athletes!

Exercise in the fight against cancer

Dr med. Jean-Marc Lüthi, former Head of the Oncology Department at Thun Hospital, Switzerland, whose main focus is physical exercise for cancer patients, recommends a good hour of activity (e.g. walking) per day. Sarcopenia, which has been correlated with a decrease in patient survival,3 is also less present in a physically active person. It is well documented that exercise should be integrated into the management and care of cancer patients.

The most athletic women are 12% less likely to have breast cancer than the least active women.4

Exercise could also support cancer treatment, reducing the risk of cardiovascular events in cancer survivors5 and reducing side effects during treatment (documented in the case of prostate cancer).6

The link between sport and prevention of cardiovascular disease

According to Prof. Dr  med. Matthias Wilhelm, sports doctor and cardiologist at the University Hospital of Bern, Switzerland, carrying out moderate-intensity sports is very beneficial for our hearts. During the first few weeks, exercise improves the function of the heart muscle (better vascularisation by the coronary artery) and of the nervous system. Next, the structural re-modelling of the heart muscle becomes visible, and after a few months there is a reduction of blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body mass and fat percentage; all of this reducing the risk of cardiovascular events.7

Sport practice is an effective treatment for many patients with heart disease, but it must be supervised by a doctor and should be progressive and adapted to each person (especially after a first episode of heart failure). Finally, regardless of the type of exercise, the most important thing is that it is done regularly.

Every little step counts…

In conclusion, as Dr med. Gojanovic stated, it’s the combination of everything we do during the day that counts. So, if we don’t have time to do 30 minutes of sport, doing three lots of exercise lasting ten minutes also works.8 So, no more excuses. Grab your shoes, get set, go…


Swiss society of Sports Medecine


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1. Haseler, C., Crooke, R. & Haseler, T. Promoting physical activity to patients. BMJ l5230 (2019). doi:10.1136/bmj.l5230

2. Colberg, S. R. et al. Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: A position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care 39, 2065–2079 (2016).

3. Caan, B. J. et al. Association of Muscle and Adiposity Measured by Computed Tomography With Survival in Patients With Nonmetastatic Breast Cancer. JAMA oncology 4, 798–804 (2018).

4. Pizot, C. et al. Physical activity, hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer risk: A meta-analysis of prospective studies. European Journal of Cancer 52, 138–154 (2016).

5. Jones, L. W. et al. Exercise and risk of major cardiovascular events in adult survivors of childhood hodgkin lymphoma: a report from the childhood cancer survivor study. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 32, 3643–50 (2014).

6. Gardner, J. R., Livingston, P. M. & Fraser, S. F. Effects of exercise on treatment-related adverse effects for patients with prostate cancer receiving androgen-deprivation therapy: a systematic review. Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 32, 335–46 (2014).

7. Thijssen, D. H. J., Redington, A., George, K. P., Hopman, M. T. E. & Jones, H. Association of exercise preconditioning with immediate cardioprotection: A review. JAMA Cardiology 3, 169–176 (2018).

8. Jakicic, J. M. et al. Association between Bout Duration of Physical Activity and Health: Systematic Review. ACTIVITY GUIDELINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE. Association between Bout Duration of Physical Activity and Health: Systematic Review. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc 51, 1213–1219 (2018).