Study says regular activity is a "miracle cure" that can be more effective than drugs.
Doing just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week could drastically reduce the chance of contracting illnesses including breast cancer and dementia, a new study has claimed.
The report, based on an analysis if more than 200 pieces of research, found that regular physical activity was more beneficial than many drugs and was the elusive “miracle cure” that so many were looking for.
It concluded that exercise could reduce the risk of breast cancer by 25 per cent, the risk of bowel cancer by 45 per cent and the risk of developing dementia by as much as 30 per cent.
The chance of having a stroke could be reduced by 30 per cent and the chance of developing heart disease could be cut by more than 40 per cent.
Scarlett McNally, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and the study’s lead author, said doctors should be taking a leading role in in helping people to become more active.
She said that while the financial savings to the NHS were incalculable, it was clear that many billions of pounds were being spent on treating diseases such as type 2 diabetes which could be prevented with regular bouts of exercise.
She called on doctors to remind patients that fitting small amounts of regular exercise into their daily lives could make a huge difference to their health.
“It could be as simple as taking the stairs rather than a lift, kicking a ball about with your children or grandchildren,” she said. “We’ve got to change what we think of as normal, because what we are seeing in our hospitals and surgeries up and down the country is that normal has become not enough exercise.
“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.”
It is estimated that half the population do not undertake enough exercise while the figure drops to less than a third for the over 65s.
The report states that physical activity need not mean joining an expensive gym or hiring a personal trainer but could involve regular activities that are free and easy to do.
It suggests a brisk walk – “one that makes you slightly sweaty and slightly out of breath” – dancing, cycling and even sex could result in dramatic health benefits.
Such low levels of regular exercise could also reduce the risks of hypertension, obesity, depression, low back pain, osteoarthritis, falls in the elderly, osteoporosis and major fractures, the study found.
The costs of physical inactivity to the UK, the NHS and other public bodies are estimated to be in excess of £15 billion. It is one of the top four factors responsible for premature deaths and long-term disease, along with smoking, nutrition and alcohol.
The report said doctors were “pivotal” in encouraging people to increase their levels of activity and should use their position in society to advocate change. It said they could help individuals on a one to one basis but also in a broader way by working with communities and organisations and that sports and recreational facilities should actively seek a more diverse clientele.
Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which commissioned the report, said: “This is about people and their doctors believing that the small effort involved is worth it because they are worth it.
“There really is a miracle cure staring us in the face, one which too many patients and doctors have quite simply forgotten about.”