Physical activity can reduce mortality more effectively than medication
The benefits of physical activity are proven and wide ranging and have been shown to reduce death, or mortality, from all causes more effectively than medication. Meanwhile, inactivity contributes to as many deaths in the UK as smoking. Sadly, more than a quarter of adults in the UK are inactive i.e. doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week.
WHAT IS PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?
Physical activity and exercise can sometimes be used interchangeably, however you don’t need to be doing ‘exercise’ to be active. Moderate physical activity requires a moderate amount of effort, accelerates the heart rate, leads to faster breathing and feeling warmer. (Vigorous intensity activity on the other hand will make you breathe very hard, so you feel short of breath, make your heart beat quickly and mean you will be unable to carry on a conversation).
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF BEING PHYSICALLY ACTIVE?
The good news is that any level of increased physical activity is beneficial and the benefits to health start at just 30 minutes of physical activity a week and increase in a ‘dose response’ manner i.e. the more you do the more your health benefits. People who do just 15 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day have a 3-year increased life expectancy than those who are inactive.
More specifically, Public Health England looked at the benefits of 10 minutes brisk walking each day and found the following:
- 20-30% reduction in risk of premature death
- 20-30% lower risk of depression and dementia
- 30-40% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes
- 20% lower risk of breast cancer
- 20-35%lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- 22-83% reduction in incidence of osteoarthritis
- 30% lower risk of colon cancer
- 30% reduction in falls for older adults
- Better relief from low back pain than specific exercises
- Lower body fat
WHAT SHOULD WE BE AIMING FOR?
The World Health Organisation recommend that adults undertake 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, with muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days. There is evidence that there is more benefit from spreading this across the week e,g. 30 minutes of exercise on 5 days.
It is important to remember, that even in fairly active individuals, daily sedentary time is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and so it is important to take regular breaks from sitting if you spend long periods of time doing so.
Moderate physical activity:
- Brisk walking/cycling
- Exercise machine at the gym or at home e.g. treadmill, rowing
- Individual and team sports, swimming, games and dancing
- Household chores e.g. cleaning, gardening, climbing stairs
- Manual work
- Sexual activity
- Weight training
- Stair climbing/walking uphill
- Lifting shopping
- Digging the garden
SET SOME GOALS
If you are not used to physical activity, start gradually and try to set achievable goals which you can build on. An example is the Couch to 5k program.
Consider making everyday activities part of your program e.g. walking or cycling to work and make sure that you enjoy the activities you plan so that you keep them as a high priority.
Initial attempts can feel like a struggle but do not dishearten as it will become easier and more enjoyable as your fitness improves. Local clubs, park runs and using apps or pedometers can also be motivating to keep up your activity and monitor your progress.
If you are already achieving good levels of activity, keep it up! The more you do, the more your health benefits – so keep setting new goals.
If you are unsure of whether a particular problem, medical condition, or a pregnancy may make it unsafe for you to do certain physical activities, please speak to your GP for advice.
Haseler Christine, Crooke Ranulf, Haseler Tobias. Promoting physical activity to patients BMJ 2019; 366:l5230
About the Author
Dr. Sidra Malik BMBS MRCGP DRCOG DFSRH is a highly experienced private doctor at London City Healthcare. You can read more about our private GP service here.