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The health benefits of exercise

‘Inactivity affects 60–70% of the adult population: that is more people than obesity, alcohol misuse and smoking combined,’ says the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in his 2009 annual report. ‘The potential benefits of physical activity to health are huge. If a medication existed which had a similar effect, it would be regarded as a wonder drug’.

The point is beautifully made in Professor Gerry Morrison’s pioneering study of London bus crews in the 50s and 60s. Sedentary drivers had heart disease at the rate of 8.5 per 100 men, active conductors at the rate of 4.7 per 100 men. In other words, sitting down upped the risk by 80%.

NHS Choices points out that even a little activity can cut the risk of premature death by 20 to 30%. It can lower the risk of major chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, dementia, type 2 diabetets and some cancers by up to 50%.

The CMO says up to 3,000 cases of cancer per year could be prevented if people were more active while, according to the British Heart Foundation, over one third of deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) are probably due to physical inactivity, (This compares to one fifth of CHD deaths due to smoking.)

The specific benefits of physical activity include:

  • More energy.
  • Reduced stress.
  • Reduced risk of depression.
  • Stronger bones and muscles.
  • Better balance, strength, suppleness and mobility.
  • Improved sleep.
  • Improved body shape.
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • More social opportunities.
  • A sense of achievement.
  • More independence in later life.

Sustrans active travel and men’s health information sheet also makes the health case for greater physical activity.

Page created on April 1st, 2010

Page updated on April 2nd, 2010