A new report launched on 13 February by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, reveals the full extent exercise could have in preventing disease and treating many conditions. After two years analysing more than 200 separate pieces of research, the lead author, Scarlett McNally, a Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon, reveals the full impact that regular physical activity could have on the nation's health.

While savings to the NHS are incalculable, it is clear that many billions of pounds are being spent on treating diseases such as type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented if we did just 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week. The report reveals how:

  • The risk of breast cancer can be reduced by as much as 25% with regular exercise, while the risk bowel cancer can be reduced by as much as 45%
  • The risk of ever developing dementia can be reduced by as much as 30%
  • The risk of ever having a stroke can be reduced by 30%
  • The chances of developing heart disease can be cut by over 40%

The effect of this small amount of regular exercise is better than many drugs. Furthermore, exercise helps in the treatment of many common conditions. It is estimated that half the population don't do enough exercise and for the over 65s it's less than a third. The report argues that physical activity need not mean joining an expensive gym or hiring a personal trainer. Instead it calls on doctors to encourage their patients to make a start with regular activities that are free and easy to do; a brisk walk - one that makes you slightly sweaty and slightly out of breath - costs nothing. Dancing, cycling, even sex, it argues, can all bring dramatic health benefits.

Scarlett McNally said, 'This is about reminding doctors and patients that fitting small amounts of regular exercise into their schedule can make a huge difference to their health. It could be as simple as taking the stairs rather than a lift, kicking a ball about with your children or grandchildren. We've got to change what we think of as normal, because what we are seeing in our hospitals and surgeries up and down the country is that normal has become not enough exercise. Too many of my patients are paying the price for that with broken bones and years of ill-health that could have been avoided by being more active.'

Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges which commissioned the report said, 'This is about people and their doctors believing that the small effort involved is worth it because they are worth it. There really is a miracle cure staring us in the face, one which too many patients and doctors have quite simply forgotten about.'

The report can be downloaded from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges website.

RCP welcomes new report revealing the impact exercise could have on the nation's health

The RCP today welcomes the findings of a new report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) which underlines the importance of physical activity regardless of whether or not it is linked to weight loss. Exercise: The miracle cure and the doctor's role in prescribing it, highlights the full extent exercise can have in preventing disease and treating many complex conditions.

RCP academic vice president and public health lead, Professor John Wass, said:

'The results from this report reinforce previous findings that regular physical activity of just 30 minutes, 5 times a week, can make a huge difference to a patient's health.

As physicians we have a key responsibility to try to incorporate messages about the impact exercise can have when talking to our patients - as the benefits are plain to see.

We must also move away from the idea that exercise is only for a specific short term purpose but impress the advantages that a lifelong appreciation of physical activity can bring.'

RCGP response to report on the health benefits of exercise

Responding to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges' report, Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

"There is no doubt that exercise is beneficial for our patients' physical and mental health - but the extent of the benefits, as outlined in this report, are astounding.

"Cancer, dementia, type-2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease limit our patients' lives - as well as costing the NHS in excess of billions every year - so whatever we can do to help prevent these should be encouraged.

"GPs are well-placed to educate our patients about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle and today's report shows how incorporating a modest amount of exercise into our daily routines can ensure our long-term health.

"But simply telling patients what to do is not enough - long term behaviour change is very hard and requires ongoing support and access to help over time.

"We need more resources in general practice and more GPs so that we can spend more time with our patients on preventing them getting ill, as well as caring for them when they are ill."