Being active has enormous health and well-being benefits. Physical activity is important in the management of long-term diseases, but, it is even more important in the prevention of many other common diseases. I believe that if physical activity was a drug it would be classed as a wonder drug, which is why I would encourage everyone to get up and be active.
As the population has become more sedentary, conditions such as diabetes and obesity have increased dramatically. The focus of previous reports has been on obesity and nutrition. This report focuses on the less well-known benefits of regular physical activity and the increasing risks of a sedentary lifestyle. Over 40% of adults do not reach the minimum recommended level of 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five times per week. Evidence in this report highlights that those achieving even this minimum level of activity can reduce their risk of developing heart disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes and some cancers by at least 30%. A society-wide increase in moderate physical activity could help reduce health inequalities and improve mental, as well as physical, health.
Two recent studies neatly illustrate the lack of focus on this issue. The first, by researchers at King’s College London 1 showed that 80% of obese patients had never discussed their weight with their GP. The second, by researchers at The University of Cambridge,2 who conducted a Europe- wide study over 12 years showed that twice as many deaths are due to inactivity than are due to obesity on its own. The Academy has reported on the prime importance of healthy eating.3
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. I would like to thank the lead author Scarlett McNally and her colleagues on the Academy’s Health Inequalities Forum for their painstaking work in writing this report.