As a rule, health reports don’t make for super-fun reading. However, the latest news from medical researchers is (literally) heartening. Studies found that even after decades of inactivity – a whole lifetime, in other words – taking up aerobic exercise regularly and sticking to it can improve heart health by a significant measure.
Specifically, participants in the research, who were required to do a form of cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming or cycling four or five days every week, were 25 per cent fitter and healthier at the end of the two-year programme, although some health professionals are surprised the percentage isn’t higher.
‘I would have expected greater results from what was quite a demanding programme,’ says Dr Ron McCulloch, a GP with over 50 years of experience. ‘Even a small amount of exercise helps us to stay well in all sorts of ways – to lose weight, boost our mood or maintain a healthy blood pressure, for instance. It sounds too simplistic to be true, yet time and again I see patients who act on this advice reap the rewards, with not a pill or prescription in sight.’
It’s unrealistic (and probably unsafe) to expect a transformation from couch potato to gym bunny overnight, but there’s nothing wrong with starting slow and increasing your fitness goals as you start to feel more confident about what your body can do. At the very least, start walking. A 2016 study found that a brisk walk of only 20 minutes per day burned around 700 calories a week and led to a 30-40 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
Staying active is about so much more than just ‘exercise’ – it’s a brilliant way to meet people, get outdoors and into the fresh air, relieve stress and generally make us feel happier. And don’t assume that exercise has to mean slogging away down the gym or running…