One hundred and fifty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise - that's just 2 ½ hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week, and the average British adult spends twice that long sitting doing nothing every single day. So is half an hour, five times a week, really so hard to manage? A recent report by Nuffield Health suggests we Brits think so.
I'm well aware that I'm something of a lifestyle bore - my children call me 'the food police'. But they do it jokingly (I think!). I try to help them understand that living healthily doesn't mean they should miss out. It's all about balance - as I enjoyed a cinnamon bun this evening, home-made fresh from the oven by my 18 year old, he reminded me that we had to walk the dog. Forty-five minutes later the dog was pleasantly exhausted and I was feeling virtuous again.
I find it very sad that people who are struggling more with their finances are less likely to exercise - the report suggests that people who do more moderate sports have an average family income over £6,500 higher than those who are inactive, and are more likely to be employed. Sport doesn't have to be expensive. Brisk walking (the kind that makes you mildly out of puff) or taking the stairs rather than the lift both count; we're lucky enough to have more green spaces in our cities than most European countries; and cycling to work (or even to the shops) saves money on petrol and bus fares.
In fact, not exercising may be far pricier in the long term - the report reminds us that not exercising costs us our health. People who don't exercise have more than 80,000 more hospital inpatient visits a year than those who do. Of course, some of this might be 'lies, damned lies and statistics' - after all, people who are ill may find it harder to exercise. But much of it is about exercise preventing disease. Obesity rates in the UK are rising faster than ever before - in just 15 years from 1993 to 2008, the proportion of Britons who are obese doubled from 12% to almost 25%, and today almost two thirds of British adults are overweight or obese (1,2). It's estimated that simply reaching that average of 2/12 hours a week of moderate physical activity would cut the risk of obesity by 7%.
Getting more physically active, along with changes to your diet, also reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes (3),heart disease and even depression, which affects up to two in three people over a lifetime. You may be young, but you're not immortal - and the benefits to under-50s of regular exercise in terms of heart attack risks like blood pressure and cholesterol are even greater than for older people. What's more, the report highlights that people are looking online for advice and support to be more active. And at patient.info you can find just that - log on to https://myhealth.patient.info/. Forty per cent of people using MyHealth say it's helped them to improve their health (4) - and you too can take the first step that could change your life.
1, Department of Health: Healthy weight, healthy lives: a toolkit for developing local strategies, October 2008
2, www.heartstats.org. DH Healthcheck London, The Stationery Office 2003
3, Diabetes Prevention Programme Research Group. 10-year follow-up of diabetes incidence and weight loss in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Lancet 2009; 374(9702): 1677-1686
4, MyHealth survey, conducted by patient.info/roadtohealth in April 2013, on a random selection of MyHealth users.
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