Resource

Physical Activity as a Medicine

Physical Activity – The Wonder Drug

Physical activity is proven to:

  • Lower your risk of premature death (USDHHS, 2008; Byberg et al., 2009; Samitz, Egger and Zwahlen, 2011; Wen et al., 2011), coronary heart disease (USDHHS, 2008; Fletcher et al., 1996), stroke (USDHHS, 2008; Hu et al., 2000), type-2 diabetes (WHO, 2009; USDDHS, 2008; Diabetes Prevention Program [DPP] Research Group, 2003; DPP Research Group, 2002; Sigal et al., 2006; Wei et al., 1999), hypertension (USDHHS, 2008; Barlow et al., 2006; Morris, 1994) and certain cancers (WHO, 2009; Knols et al., 2005; Holmes et al., 2005; Fong et al., 2012; Slattery and Potter, 2002).
  • Decrease feelings of depression and anxiety (Dunn et al., 2005).
  • Reduce obesity and aid weight management (USDHHS, 2008).
  • Improve functional health in the elderly and prevent falls (Blair, 2009; USDHHS, 2008; Department of Health, 2004).
  • Improve cognitive function (USDHHS, 2008: Larson et al., 2006), bone density (USDHHS, 2008) and sleep quality (USDHHS, 2008).

Alongside its role as a ‘wonder drug’, physical activity is also a major risk factor for preventable chronic diseases. Again, whilst it is shown to be as big a risk factor as hypertension or smoking for preventable chronic diseases, and is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, it is paid little attention. The body of evidence associated with these facts highlights the role that physical activity can play as a diagnostic tool, providing further information and insight into an individual’s current health status and future disease risk.

Physical inactivity causes disease – it is as much of a risk factor as hypertension and smoking for preventable chronic diseases (Myers et al., 2002; Lee and Paffenbarger, 1998; Lee, Hseih and Paffenbarger, 1995), but physical activity has never been given the same respect as medication to prevent and treat disease.

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (Murray et al., 2013) and is linked to the development of numerous chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, dementia, obesity, depression, and certain cancers (Brown et al., 2012; Royal College of Physicians, 2012; Department of Health, 2011; Samitz et al., 2011; Woodcock et al., 2011; Löllgen, Bickenhoff and Knapp, 2009; World Health Organisation, 2009; Nocon et al., 2008; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2008; American College of Sports Medicine [ACSM], 2005; Bassuk and Manson, 2005 Brooks et al., 2004; Chakravarthy and Booth, 2004). In fact, being physically active is the single most important thing you can do for your health.

Physical Activity is a Powerful Diagnostic and Treatment Tool

Being physically active on a weekly basis:

  • Lowers your risk of:
    • Dying prematurely (USDHHS, 2008; Byberg et al., 2009; Samitz, Egger and Zwahlen, 2011; Wen et al., 2011).
    • Coronary heart disease (USDHHS, 2008; Fletcher et al., 1996).
    • Stroke (USDHHS, 2008; Hu et al., 2000).
    • Type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (WHO, 2009; USDDHS, 2008; Diabetes Prevention Program [DPP] Research Group, 2003; DPP Research Group, 2002; Sigal et al., 2006; Wei et al., 1999).
    • Hypertension (USDHHS, 2008; Barlow et al., 2006; Morris, 1994).
    • Adverse lipid profile (USDHHS, 2008).
    • Colon, breast and endometrial cancers (WHO, 2009; Knols et al., 2005; Holmes et al., 2005; Fong et al., 2012; Slattery and Potter, 2002).
    • Respiratory illnesses (Garcia-Aymerich et al., 2006).
    • Hip fractures (USDHHS, 2008).
  • Decreases feelings of depression and anxiety (Dunn et al., 2005).
  • Reduces abdominal obesity and helps in weight loss, weight maintenance and prevention of weight gain (USDHHS, 2008).
  • Prevents of falls and improves functional health for older adults (Blair, 2009; USDHHS, 2008; Department of Health, 2004).
  • Improves cognitive function (USDHHS, 2008: Larson et al., 2006).
  • Increases bone density (USDHHS, 2008).
  • Improves quality of sleep (USDHHS, 2008).

It is this significant body of scientific evidence that enables us to use physical activity as a diagnostic and treatment tool.