Exercise: the miracle cure

‘The big four “proximate” causes of preventable ill-health are: smoking, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and alcohol excess. Of these, the importance of regular exercise is the least well-known. Relatively low levels of increased activity can make a huge difference. All the evidence suggests small amounts of regular exercise (five times a week for 30 minutes each time for adults) brings dramatic benefits. The exercise should be moderate – enough to get a person slightly out of breath and/or sweaty, and with an increased heart rate. This report is a thorough review of that evidence.

Regular exercise can prevent dementia, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, heart disease and other common serious conditions – reducing the risk of each by at least 30%. This is better than many drugs’ Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

Evidence of improvement in health for those with chronic conditions and scale of improvement

ConditionEvidence for improvement, and scale of improvement with physical activity
Short term improvementsMany papers report global improvements in health across a range of conditions. 17 “Physical activity helps to manage over 20 chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions”. 20
COPDPhysical activity improves cardiorespiratory health. 21 Furthermore, in COPD, exercise training reduces dyspnoea symptoms and increases ability for exertion. 16
Heart disease and/ or Heart failure and/or AnginaAll studies show clear improvements in cardiovascular health with moderate exercise. 30 There are similar beneficial effects for sufferers of angina. 27 Overall, exercise reduces cardiac mortality by 31%. 16
Hypertension (high blood pressure)Hypertension is very common with 10% of adults in England having this diagnosis. 31 Hypertension is responsible for 50% of strokes and 50% of Ischaemic heart disease. 7,30 Most people with hypertension are on long-term medication. Randomised controlled trials show a clear lowering of blood pressure with aerobic training. 16 The scale of the reduction has been quantified: 31% of patients on average experience a drop of at least 10 mmHg with regular physical activity. 3
CholesterolAcross several studies, exercise led to a reduction in LDL by an average of 1 to 2mmol/l and an increase in “good” High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). 16

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