Nov. 17, 2010 -- People who exercise on a regular basis not only can reduce their odds of becoming obese, but also cut their risk of developing about two dozen physical and mental health problems, a new review of more than 40 studies indicates.
Exercise reduces the risk of some cancers, dementia, sexual problems like erectile dysfunction, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression, and hypertension, among many other diseases, according to the review.
The study is published in the December issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice.
Aside from quitting smoking, the best thing a person can do to try to stay healthy is exercise on a regular basis, says Leslie Alford, a physiotherapist and lecturer at the University of East Anglia in England.
“The literature reviewed shows that how long people live and how healthy they are depends on a complex mix of factors, including their lifestyle, where they live, and even luck,” Alford says in a news release. “Individuals have an element of control over some of these factors, including obesity, diet, smoking, and physical activity.”
He says his research review focused on men’s health but that its findings apply to both sexes and all age groups.
Alford reviewed 40 studies covering the latest international research published between 2006 and 2010.
According to his study:
There is a strong relationship between increased physical activity and reduced colon cancer in both sexes.
Men who are more active at work and not simply sitting at a desk most of the day have lower rates of prostate cancer.
Men who engage in physical activity are less likely to have erection problems.
Physical activity reduces the risk of dementia in the elderly.
What People Should Do to Reduce Health Risks
Alford says healthy adults between 18 and 65 should strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise a week. That would equate to about a half hour of brisk walking five days per week.
People who exercise more vigorously, such as joggers, should shoot for 20 minutes of that activity three times per week.
He says exercise can help older people maintain their balance and flexibility, and recommends that people who are physically active not slow down as they age, but try to increase fitness activities.
“Ideally, to gain maximum health benefits, people should exercise, not smoke, eat a healthy diet, and have a body mass index of less than 25,” Alford says. “The more of these health traits an individual has, the less likely they are to develop a range of chronic disorders. Even if people can’t give up smoking and maintain a healthy weight, they can still gain health benefits from increasing the amount of regular exercise they take.”
Alford says walking, cycling, running, dancing, swimming, and gardening all classify as physical activity. And for those who think that it’s too late, he says people are never too old to start some sort of healthful physical activity.