Health & Wellbeing

Changing the emphasis

Middle aged people riding bicycles

We raised the point last month about re-evaluating and changing key health messages after the BBC’s website ran an article which championed the need to ‘focus on fitness not fatness.’ The topic has returned to the news this week in various guises as evidence materializes suggesting a direct correlation between being active and enjoying not just a fitter but a longer life.

A Texas study of 14,000 men in their late forties tested their cardio-respiratory fitness levels by making them run on a treadmill. This test was repeated over an average of six and a half years between 1971 and 2009. In the latter ten years, 1,310 men had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, 200 with lung cancer and 181 with colorectal cancer.

The study found that the men with high levels of fitness in middle-age reduced their risk of lung cancer by 55% and their risk of colorectal cancer by 44% compared with the men with the lowest levels of fitness.

This week, new guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) reached the attention of the media. This guidance came in the form of a call to urge bosses to encourage a less sedentary approach in the workplace and to get employees to stand during meetings, with a view to boosting regular activity levels.

It is now recognized that a lack of exercise is responsible for twice as many deaths as obesity but unfortunately the benefit of exercise is a less sensational topic than the burgeoning obesity problem. (We’re talking in the same week that Katie Hopkins blamed parents for rising child obesity levels and called for ‘fat kids’ to be sent to specialist sports schools – not the most practical solution to childhood obesity but then she’s in the business of making headlines).

It’s not just that exercise can make you fitter and can help fight the obesity battle – it can actually add years to an individual’s life. A new study has revealed that just 20 minutes of walking a day could reduce the risk of an early death by almost a third. Cambridge University researchers used recent data to study 9.2 million deaths among European men and women. From their findings they estimated that 337,000 deaths were caused by obesity, but more than double that number could be attributed to physical inactivity.

A member of the research team, Professor Nick Wareham, was quoted as saying: “Whilst we should continue to aim at reducing population levels of obesity, public health interventions that encourage people to make small but achievable changes in physical activity can have significant health benefits and may be easier to achieve and maintain.”

Wareham went on to point out that exercise can ward off diseases like cancer of the intestines. Which brings us back to where we started. Exercise is a direct repellant when it comes to illness and disease. It can lead to a longer life. When, if not now, will it be the right time to truly drive these messages home?