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Regular Exercise Reduces Risk of 24 Illnesses Including Dementia and Cancer, Review Finds

Regular exercise such as a daily walk is linked to reducing around two dozen physical and mental health conditions and slowing down how quickly the body ages, according to an extensive research review.

Health conditions covered by the review include: cancer, heart disease, dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and high blood pressure.

The team reviewed 40 papers covering the latest international research published between 2006 and 2010 and found that apart from not smoking, being physically active was the most powerful lifestyle choice any individual could make to improve their health.

Health benefits identified by the review include:

  • Regular moderate to intense physical activity is associated with decreased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke;
  • Increasing physical activity can also reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and high blood pressure;
  • Walking or cycling for at least 30 minutes a day is associated with a reduction in cancer and when this is increased to an hour cancer incidence falls by 16 per cent;
  • In relation to specific cancers, research has shown a strong relationship between increased physical activity and reduced colon cancer in both sexes. And men who are more active at work - not just sitting at a desk - have lower rates of prostate cancer;
  • Other cancer studies show that physical activity after diagnosis can aid recovery and improve outcomes;
      There is growing evidence that physical activity could decrease the risk of dementia in the elderly.

    Recommendations identified by the review include:

    • Healthy adults aged between 18 and 65 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking, five days a week. And people who undertake more vigorous intensity exercise, such as jogging, should aim for 20 minutes three days a week;
    • Healthy adults should aim for two strength-training sessions a week that work with the body's major muscle groups;
    • Older people can benefit from exercise that helps to maintain their balance and flexibility;
    • People who are physically active should continue to exercise even when they become middle aged or elderly and those who aren't should increase their physical activity;
    • Not smoking and following a healthy diet is also important.

    The author of the review said:

    "Ideally, to gain maximum health benefits people should exercise, not smoke, eat a healthy diet and have a body mass index of less than 25,

    "The more of these healthy traits an individual has, the less likely they are to develop a range of chronic disorders. Even if people can't give up smoking and maintain a healthy weight, they can still gain health benefits from increasing the amount of regular exercise they take.

    "Physical inactivity results in widespread pathophysiological changes to our bodies. It appears that our bodies have evolved to function optimally on a certain level of physically activity that many of us simply do not achieve in our modern, sedentary lifestyles.

    "What is clear from the research is that men and women of all ages should be encouraged to be more physically active for the sake of their long-term health."

    Research Paper Details:

    L. Alford. What men should know about the impact of physical activity on their health. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 2010; 64 (13): 1731.