Apart from not smoking, being physically active is the most powerful lifestyle choice any person can make to improve their health.
So says a new review of existing research published in the December 2010 issue of The International Journal of Clinical Practice.
But just how powerful is it?
According to Leslie Alford, a physiotherapist and lecturer at the University of East Anglia, regular exercise can reduce a person's risk of developing about two dozen physical and mental conditions, including some cancers and dementia, and slow down how quickly their body deteriorates as they age.
“Physical inactivity results in widespread pathophysiological changes to our bodies, he said. “It appears that our bodies have evolved to function optimally on a certain level of physically activity that many of us simply do not achieve in our modern, sedentary lifestyles.”
Alford reviewed 40 papers covering the latest international research published between 2006 and 2010. He concluded how long people live and how healthy they are throughout their lives depends on a complex mix of factors, including their lifestyle, where they live, and even luck. However, he said, everyone has an element of control over some of these factors, including obesity, diet, smoking and the level of physical activity.
While the focus of his study was on men’s health, the messages on physical activity rings loud and clear to both sexes and all age groups, Alford said.
For instance, a growing body of evidence suggests that increasing physical activity can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and high blood pressure. Current research is expanding the benefits of physical activity in primary cancer prevention and management and there’s an existing association between higher levels of physical activity and lower cancer death rates.
When it comes to specific cancers, the evidence is mixed. Research shows a strong relationship between increased physical activity and a reduction of colon cancer in both sexes.