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Make the lifestyle change, feel the benefits

A healthy older men exercising.

I read an interesting article the other day in the British Journal of General Practice about recent research which suggests that even moderate amounts of regular exercise, such as a 20-minute daily walk, can reduce mortality by half.

More than 3,300 physically inactive people took part in the study, which found that those who changed their habits significantly improved their health.

The Spanish scientists behind the study tracked the participants (who were up to 80 years of age) over 12 years to see what differences changes in their lifestyles could make. Those who managed a significant boost in exercise levels, meeting recommendations to carry out 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week or a 20-minute brisk walk daily, for example, saw their mortality fall by 45 per cent.

Quite an improvement for a reasonable physical investment!

Plus, it gets better for those who only managed a 10-minute walk. These people saw their mortality fall by 20 per cent, according to the study, which suggests that if everyone had followed international health advice and managed 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, 20 per cent of deaths could have been avoided, said researchers.

To put this into perspective, the positive health impact of the above was at least as much as could be achieved by persuading people to change other unhealthy habits, such as smoking, and tackling problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

This research by scientists from the primary care research unit of Bio-Cruces-Bizkaia Health Research Institute said any increase in activity, no matter how small, translated into a significant reduction in mortality.

"Inactive patients who performed 10 minutes a day of moderate or five minutes of vigorous activity reduced mortality by 20 per cent," the study reports.

To put all this into perspective, current estimates suggest that more than one-quarter of adults live sedentary lives. Scientists from the study claimed that many doctors had doubted that it was worth trying to persuade those with unhealthy lifestyles to overhaul them. They also said that many of those leading inactive lives might be spurred on by the news that even a 10-minute daily walk is enough to make a difference.

According to researcher Dr Gonzalo Grandes, "When primary healthcare professionals try to promote physical activity in patients who have been inactive for many years, it is easier to negotiate a small initial goal, such as including 10 minutes of moderate activity a day, which will benefit them and can later be increased progressively."

Commenting on the report, Huw Edwards, Chief Executive of ukactive, said, "This study helps show that no matter what your age, ability or experience, it’s never too late to take the first small steps to a more active life.

"Modern living has become more sedentary, but even small changes to our daily activity levels can have a profound effect on our physical and mental health.

"From walking to the shops to going for a swim, doing some gardening or trying a new exercise class, there are plenty of options and support available."

I think that for many people who do not exercise regularly, the thought of doing so is too intimidating to contemplate. In the mind of many such people, regular exercise that may have a substantial impact on individual health requires large amounts of exercise that can be exhausting to the point of being off-putting. This kind of lifestyle change (especially if considered to only be able to be undertaken immediately and in one go) is just too large a mountain to climb.

For others, making a significant lifestyle change is the objective, though, in many cases, this can only be achieved over time and with professional and dietary support. For those looking to improve their health in a more manageable way, the amount of exercise that needs to be undertaken, as indicated by the above study, can be accommodated regularly without being onerous and can also be enjoyable.

A healthy, fitness lifestyle need not be punishing. It can be rewarding on its own terms and have significant benefits. The change that is needed, in my experience, to make such gains is not so much physical as mental. Changing a mindset to embrace a healthier and rewarding physical lifestyle has benefits, both physical and mental.

So, embrace that change and enjoy life as it should indeed be enjoyed.


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