If I had a pound for every patient who claimed they didn’t have time to exercise, but was healthy because they were ‘always on the go’, I could probably retire on the proceeds. But nipping out to make a cup of tea every half hour really doesn’t do it.
Regular exercise can help you lose weight or keep it off, guard against heart disease and type 2 diabetes, protect you from osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and boost your mood. Oh, and did I mention that if you keep it up, it cuts your risk of cancer and dementia too?
The couch-potato lifestyle – what’s the cost?
There are very good reasons that Public Health England is obsessed with getting us more active. The statistics make for pretty scary reading, both for us and for the NHS:
- More than 2 in 5 40-60 years old don’t walk briskly for at least 10 minutes at a stretch even once each month[i]
- As a nation, we’re around 20% less physically active now than we were in the 1960s[ii]
- Physical inactivity is costing the NHS in England £0.9 billion a year[iv]
- Physical inactivity directly contributes to one in six deaths in the UK[v] - the same number as smoking[vi]
Physical activity – what counts?
Ideally, we should be aiming towards half an hour of aerobic exercise – the kind that makes you mildly out of breath – five times a week. That level of exercise adds 3 years to the average lifespan. More importantly, it adds healthy years – you’re likely to have a better quality of life too.
Exercise doesn’t need to be expensive and you don’t need to go from zero to hero in one go. In fact, building up your exercise gradually starts to bring health benefits almost immediately. Just 10 minutes a day of brisk walking – as long as it’s done in a single ‘package’ – counts towards your daily exercise. In fact, just one 10 minute ‘dose’ of brisk walking cuts your risk of early death by 15%[vii]. Make it three 10 minute bursts a day and the benefits are even greater.
The Active 10 app – your head start
While you definitely don’t need to don a set of lycra leggings to get enough exercise to count, a gentle two minute stroll to the next door neighbour’s sadly doesn’t count as aerobic exercise. You have to walk briskly enough to get your heart pumping faster – and enough to feel slightly out of puff – for at least 10 minutes at a stretch.
Public Health England have launched a new Active 10 app as part of their One You Physical Activity campaign. It’s free and easy to download (even I can manage it, which is saying something!) and works with iPhones and android phones. You can set your own goals – one, two or three 10 minute bursts of brisk walking a day. It will tell you how many minutes of walking you’ve done, how much of it is brisk, and when you’ve reached your goal.
Whether it’s getting off the bus one stop earlier on the way to work, walking rather than taking the car to the shops ½ a mile away or popping out to the park in your lunchbreak, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to fit exercise into your life if you only need to find 10 minutes.
So if you care about your heart – or your bones – or your brain – take a simple step and download Active 10.
[i] Public Health England, Active Lives, 2015/16
[ii] Ng SW, Popkin B (2012) Time Use and Physical Activity: a shift away from movement across the globe. Obesity Review 13(8):659-80.
[iii] Department for Transport. National Travel Survey 2015. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551437/national-travel-survey-2015.pdf
[iv] Scarborough P, Bhatnagar P, Wickramasinghe KK, Allender S, Foster C, Rayner M (2011) The economic burden of ill health due to diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol and obesity in the UK: an update to 2006–07 NHS costs. Journal of Public Health 33 (4): 527-535.
[v] Lee I-M, et al. (2012) Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet 380: 219–29
[vi] Wen CP, Wu X (2012). Stressing harms of physical inactivity to promote exercise. The Lancet Online SO140- 6736 (12) 60954-4 14.
Health & Social Care Information centre (2014) Statistics on Smoking, England - 2014. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre
[vii] Public Health England, Health benefits of 10 minutes brisk walking each day in mid-life, Evidence summary
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