Regular exercise – including sex, walking and dancing – are “miracle cures staring us in the face” and could dramatically cut our risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes, leading doctors have said.
In a new review of existing evidence which reveals the full extent of benefits that can be accrued from exercise, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said the improvement in health and savings to the NHS could be “incalculable”.
If we all did just 30 minutes exercise five times a week, we could prevent cases of type 2 diabetes that cost the NHS billions per year, the report says.
Similar levels of exercise could also cut our risk of heart disease by 40 per cent, stroke and dementia by 30 per cent and breast cancer by 25 per cent. Bowel cancer rates could be cut by nearly half.
Scarlett McNally, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who led the review of more than 200 separate pieces of research, said people had to “change what we think of as normal”.
“What we are seeing in our hospitals and surgeries up and down the country is that normal has become not enough exercise,” she said. “Too many of my patients are paying the price for that with broken bones and years of ill-health that could have been avoided by being more active.”
The health benefits of even a small amount of exercise is superior to many drugs in preventing some diseases, the report said, and can also be a treatment for certain conditions, in particular depression.
However, half the population does not do enough – a figure which rises to two thirds among the over 65s.
More exercise need not mean a gym membership or personal trainer, the report says, and doctors should be doing more to encourage patients to be more active in easy, everyday ways. A regular brisk walk, one which makes you slightly sweaty and slightly out of breath, or comparable activity would be enough.
“This is about reminding doctors and patients that fitting small amounts of regular exercise into their schedule can make a huge difference to their health,” said Ms McNally. “It could be as simple as taking the stairs rather than a lift, kicking a ball about with your children or grandchildren.”
Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: “There really is a miracle cure staring us in the face, one which too many patients and doctors have quite simply forgotten about.”