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Doctors urged to prescribe more exercise

Exercise is ‘miracle cure’ for many illnesses, say experts

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 13 February 2015

GPs are being urged to recommend physical exercise to patients on a more regular basis in an attempt to prevent disease and treat many conditions.

In a report published today by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the authors underline the importance of physical activity regardless of whether or not it is linked to weight loss.

For the report Exercise: The miracle cure and the role of the doctor in promoting it commissioned by the Academy, the authors spent two years analysing more than 200 separate pieces of research to look into the impact that regular physical activity can have on the nation’s health.

The report says billions of pounds are being spent on treating diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented if people did 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week.

Exercise, argued the authors, helped in the treatment of many common conditions, which was important given that it was estimated that half the population did not do enough exercise.

The report claims:

  • the risk of breast cancer can be reduced by as much as 25% with regular exercise
  • risk of bowel cancer can be reduced by as much as 45%
  • risk of ever developing dementia can be reduced by 30%
  • risk of ever having a stroke can be reduced by 30%
  • chances of developing heart disease can be cut by over 40%

The report mentions a recent study that found that 80% of obese patients had never discussed their weight with their GP, so doctors had a crucial role to play.

Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, says in the report: “This report outlines not just ‘why’ doctors in all four nations in the UK must take a leading role in the fight against a sedentary lifestyle, but commendably sets out in clear and simple terms ‘how’ they should do that.

“I recognise that doctors are frequently prevailed upon to take the lead when it comes to helping people become more active. For me though, this is an integral part of our role in the community.

“Doctors should lead by example and take every opportunity to provide wise counsel, especially on behalf of those patients who have fewest opportunities in society.”

Physical activity did not necessarily mean joining an expensive gym but could mean doctors encouraging their patients to participate in easy regular activities such as a brisk walk, dancing, or cycling.

Lead author, Scarlett McNally, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said: “This is about reminding doctors and patients that fitting small amounts of regular exercise into their schedule can make a huge difference to their health.

“We’ve got to change what we think of as normal, because what we are seeing in our hospitals and surgeries up and down the country is that normal has become not enough exercise.”

Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said: “There is no doubt that exercise is beneficial for our patients’ physical and mental health – but the extent of the benefits, as outlined in this report, are astounding.

“Cancer, dementia, type-2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease limit our patients’ lives - as well as costing the NHS in excess of billions every year - so whatever we can do to help prevent these should be encouraged.

“GPs are well-placed to educate our patients about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle and today’s report shows how incorporating a modest amount of exercise into our daily routines can ensure our long-term health.

“We need more resources in general practice and more GPs so that we can spend more time with our patients on preventing them getting ill, as well as caring for them when they are ill.”

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