Exercise is vital to health and happiness

A major new study by the University of Bristol has confirmed the benefits of exercise and on our health and wellbeing. The results have led to UK’s four Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) updating their guidance on how exercise can help people stay fit and healthy.

The UK’s new physical activity guidelines offer advice to people of all ages and – for the first time include pregnant women, new mums and disabled adults.

Drawing on the most up-to-date scientific evidence on the benefits of physical activity, the new guidelines emphasise the importance of building strength and balance for adults, as well as focusing on cardiovascular exercise.

Led by Dr Charlie Foster from the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences at the University of Bristol, the study involved over 500 academics, health professionals and members of the public from across the UK.

Dr Foster said: “Exercise is one of the cheapest and most effective forms of medicine, with far-reaching benefits for both our health and happiness. It is vital for all age groups and abilities.”

Exercise helps protects against chronic illness

There is strong evidence that physical activity protects against a range of chronic conditions. Meeting the guidelines can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 40 per cent, coronary heart disease by 35 per cent and depression by 30 per cent.

Under the new guidelines, adults are advised to undertake strength-based exercise at least two days a week – which can help delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density that starts from around 50. It is believed that this is a central reason why older people lose their ability to carry out daily tasks.

To avoid falls – the number one reason older people are hospitalised – the guidelines suggest daily activities ranging from brisk walking, to climbing stairs, swimming and gardening.

“The addition of strength-based exercise at least two days a week for adults will help delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density that starts from around 50. And into older age, we recommend regular strength, flexibility and balance activities to maintain physical function, ultimately helping to stave off injury and illness.

Guidance for new mums and bubs

The guidelines also include world-first recommendations for new mothers, advising that a moderate amount of exercise will help them regain strength, ease back pain and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.

New advice is also available to encourage good development in babies and children, with the UK Chief Medical Officers recommending lots of ‘tummy time’.

As much active play as possible in children under five is encouraged, and older children are recommended to be active for an average of 60 minutes a day, across the week.

Move it or lose it

The report also highlights the risks of inactivity and sedentary behaviour for health. There have been notable developments in the evidence base for the impact this has on people’s health, with research suggesting sitting time is associated with heart disease, cancer risk and obesity.

Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “Physical activity is an under-appreciated asset in our clinical arsenal. It is cheap and brings a long list of health benefits.

“As we age, our muscles weaken and we can become stiff, leading to falls and difficulty preforming everyday activities. Physical activity can prevent fragility and support mobility in old age. By keeping active, both throughout the day and also through hobbies, we can slow muscle and bone decline, ultimately keeping us independent for longer.”

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