It's official: exercise helps you live longer

If it were a drug, it would be hailed as a miracle. If it were a new exotically named therapy, people would be queuing for a session. No treatment in the history of medicine has achieved what moving your arms and legs about can achieve. It is called exercise.

It protects against breast cancer and colon cancer, cuts the risk of heart disease and diabetes, builds up the bones and reduces the risk of premature death by up to 30 per cent. It improves mood and brings a sense of wellbeing. Yet two thirds of men and three quarters of women fail to get an adequate dose.

Despite the obvious benefits, people are reluctant to take the medicine and efforts over more than a decade have failed to persuade them. Total miles walked and cycled have fallen by more than a quarter since 1976 and the proportion of inactive men and women has grown to more than one third.

Yesterday the Government tried again by publishing the first comprehensive report examining the evidence for the benefits of physical activity. It shows you do not need to be a marathon runner, or even a Sunday jogger, to benefit. Vacuuming, mowing the lawn and walking to the bus stop have more effect on health than a fistful of blood pressure pills.

The report, At Least Five a Week, echoes the "five a day" advice on fruit and vegetables, and is aimed at getting Britain off the couch and onto its feet for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. But, as before, there is nothing but warm words and exhortation to help it. Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, England's chief medical officer, said: "We are moving less than our parents and grandparents. This is a major risk for the nation's health. We need to combat the couch-potato culture and this means building moderate everyday physical activity into our lives."

A mechanised world has created a global shortage of physical activity, but people do not complain. In Britain, the average citizen gets a mile less walking a week than 20 years ago. But Sir Liam said ministers were now practising what they preached and today's cabinet was "one of the fittest on record".

Sir Liam said that as a six- year-old his mother turned him out of the house in the morning "and I would be running around and playing and wouldn't return till the evening". Today's youngsters are kept indoors for safety and run only from computer to fridge. Children should aim to take at least 60 minutes of moderate activity a day, he said.

Now in his 50s with a demanding job and working long hours, Sir Liam said he used an exercise bike at home and took the stairs instead of the lift. "People shouldn't be daunted. [The daily target] can be built up in 10-minute bursts and from several activities. They choose what suits their lifestyle."

The menu starts with ironing ("light intensity"), moves up through vacuuming and golf (moderate intensity) and advances through dancing and swimming to running (vigorous). For protection of the heart, the more vigorous the activity the better, but for other chronic conditions moderate exercise which makes the heart beat faster and breathing harder was just as effective, Sir Liam said.

The report puts the cost of inactivity to the nation at £8.2bn including health care and costs to society. Those costs would grow and create an increasing burden of chronic illness for the NHS as set out in the reports by Sir Derek Wanless to the Treasury, unless action were taken now to increase levels of activity, Sir Liam said.

But the report does not say how this is to be done. Sir Liam said: "It is not good enough to hand out leaflets telling people to get on with it. We have got to give them opportunities."

The 120-page report will be considered by ministers who are drawing up a White Paper on public health for the summer. But John Reid the Secretary of State for Health, is opposed to any measure that smacks of the nanny state. Yesterday, commending the more active lifestyle, he said: "The challenge is how we achieve that."

EXERCISE CHART

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Ironing

Cleaning and dusting

Hoovering

Golf

Brisk walking

Cycling 12-14 mph

Swimming - 50 yds/minute

Running - 7.5 mins/mile

ENERGY EXPENDITURE (METS)

2.3 (Light)

2.5 (Light)

3.5 (moderate)

4.3 (moderate)

5.0 (moderate)

8.0 (vigorous)

8.0 (vigorous)

13.5 (vigorous)

HEALTH BENEFITS

*20-30 per cent reduced risk of premature death

*Protects against up to 20 chronic conditions

*Prevents heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity

*40-50 per cent lower risk of colon cancer

*Lower risk of post menopausal breast cancer

*Strengthens bones and reduces risk of fractures

*33-50 per cent reduced risk of diabetes

*Improves psychological wellbeing

A MET is a measure of energy expenditure. One MET is the rate at which calories are burned at rest. Two METS is double, and so on

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

    Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower