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Is physical activity as good as pills?

How exercise affects health and life expectancy


Which? investigates whether exercise is as good as medicine, and reveals if you need to don lycra or can get the same benefit from gardening, housework and walking.

A panel of 13 experts – including leading experts Dr John Buckley and Dr David Broom – analysed the scientific evidence on six health treatments and has found that exercise can be as effective as taking medication, particularly for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

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Exercise health benefits

Physical activity can reduce your risk of many other diseases, including prostate and breast cancers and strokes. It also contributes to a wide range of other health benefits, such as improved mental health and the prevention and treatment of depression. And there is a growing body of research that shows physical activity can help prevent dementia.

Our experts reviewed the clinical literature and found that no sweaty lycra is needed. Doing housework and gardening, and walking and cycling more briskly, will help achieve your recommended minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity.

Which? principal health researcher Joanna Pearl says: ‘Physical activity can even reduce your chance of dying in a particular year. 

‘A 65-year-old man has a 2.4% chance of dying that year, reduced to 1.8% by 300 minutes of exercise a week. And a 65-year-old woman would reduce her chance of dying from 1.5% to 1.1%.’

Stand to burn extra calories

Perhaps most interesting, though, is knowing that you could be burning an extra 30,000 calories a year simply by standing up. 

Office workers would burn this if they spent three hours a day standing up. Sitting for too long – watching television or using a computer – can significantly reduce the benefits of any exercise you do.

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