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Middle-aged putting their health at risk due to inactivity
Friday 22 September 2017

Middle-aged adults in England are putting their health at risk due to inactivity, with 40% taking less than 10 minutes of continuous exercise each month. While the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise per week might seem ambitious, is a 10-minute brisk walk each day a realistic goal for those with inactive lifestyles?

Missing health benefits

Over 6.3 million adults aged 40 to 60 in England are missing out on important health benefits by not exercising, according to research by Public Health England (PHE). It found that 41% of adults in the age range did not even take a 10-minute brisk walk once a month.

The findings show that adults in this group are a long way off the 10 minutes of brisk walking per day recommended by PHE in its ‘One You’ campaign, which encourages people to walk every day as a simple way to improve their health.

10-minute daily walk

The campaign specifically targets those who have an inactive or low-activity lifestyle who may find it challenging to incorporate activity into their daily routine. It advocates taking at least one 10-minute brisk walk (at least 3mph) a day which, as well as increasing physical fitness and body leanness, can also improve mood, reduce the strain of everyday activities and provide a 15% reduction in risk of early death.

The campaign is supported by an app, ‘Active 10’, which tracks the amount of brisk walking completed each day and includes tips on how to incorporate more walking into daily activities.

PHE said that brisk walking is the best evidence-based choice for promoting physical activity across the inactive population, adding that it is already prevalent, requires no skill, facility or equipment and is ‘more accessible and acceptable than other forms of physical activity for most people’.

Daily walking would achieve even greater health benefits for those with existing health conditions, notes PHE, as it could improve symptoms, and reduce the risk of developing other conditions. However, it also recognised that the intervention would not be suitable for those with disabilities which inhibit walking, such as lower-limb mobility impairments, and said further work is needed to explore the ‘equivalent opportunity’ for this group.

National weekly exercise target

A daily 10-minute walk can also contribute to meeting the national physical activity guidance of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week. This can lead to increased health benefits including a lowered risk of: type 2 diabetes (by 40%); cardiovascular disease (by 35%); dementia (by 30%); and some cancers (by 20%).

The severity of the current physical inactivity epidemic among adults contributes to almost 17% of deaths in the UK and is costing the NHS over £0.9 billion per year, according to PHE.

Modern lifestyle

The current level of inactivity has increased in recent years, and the findings show that people in the UK are 20% less active now than they were in the 1960s. On average, people walk 15 miles less a year than two decades ago, and walking trips as a percentage of overall trips in England declined from 27% to 22% over the same time period.

The healthcare practitioner view

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy medical director at PHE, said: “I know first-hand that juggling the priorities of everyday life often means exercise takes a back seat. Walking to the shops instead of driving or going for a brisk 10-minute walk on your lunch break each day can add many healthy years to your life.”

Dr Zoe Williams, GP and Clinical Champion for Physical Activity and Lifestyle at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “As GPs, we’re best placed to talk to people about how their lifestyles affect their health. Every GP should talk to their patients about the benefits of brisk walking and recommend the ‘Active 10’ app.”

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