Why Exercise Is the Best Medicine ; HEALTH

Article excerpt

POPPING out for a regular brisk walk or cycle, and using the stairs instead of the lift, could be as good as popping pills for some conditions.

While it's long been known that physical activity massively reduces the risk of developing certain diseases, a major new study suggests exercise may also be as effective as drugs at treating conditions like heart disease.

Although people who suffer from such illnesses shouldn't just throw their tablets away, the implication is that regular exercise should be as important a part of their treatment regime as medication.

The new study, by researchers at the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School and Stanford University School of Medicine, analysed the results of 305 trials involving nearly 340,000 people, comparing the effectiveness of exercise and drugs.

It found being active was just as good as medicine for those with existing heart disease, and in the prevention of diabetes, and a more effective treatment than drugs for people who'd suffered a stroke.

Professor Mark Batt, a sport and exercise medicine consultant at Nottingham University Hospitals, says: "Physical activity is extremely important for health, and we know there's compelling evidence for both the prevention of chronic diseases and now in treatment.

"There was already information about how effective exercise is in reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and also depression, osteoporosis and others, but this study gives more information about its effectiveness as a treatment, and that's really important."

But while physical activity is clearly good for your health on several levels, Professor only 14% of UK adults exercise regularly.

Part of the problem is, of course, that often it's easier to reach for the pills than it is to exercise. But Prof Batt points out that people don't need to join a gym and make a huge effort to achieve the benefits of being active.

Just taking the recommended weekly 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is enough to really make a difference, and this could be achieved through things like walking the kids to school briskly, regularly doing fairly vigorous gardening, or taking the stairs instead of the lift and actively commuting to work. …