As nurses, we know that there is enormous health and well being benefits to being active.

It’s what we do.

Everyday we encourage activity.

Why do we do it?

Doing 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five times a week can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes and some cancers.

So starting with the first step can always be the hardest to take.

Here is what nurses can tell our patients about the benefits that occur with just a little more movement.

In fact the UK Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) called exercise “the wonder drug”

Physical activity is not routine for most people anymore.

We do spend our days in front of screens or in vehicles or use domestic appliances that 50 years ago were not a ‘thing”.

Half of all adults spend over hours of their day being sedentary.

Twice as many deaths are due to inactivity than are due to obesity on its own.

For those with chronic conditions, increasing physical activity improves health and prevents many common serious medical conditions.

In fact the health improvements of exercise are greater than any improvement with drugs.

The largest health gains occurs in those who go from inactive to moderately inactive.

And the same degree of gain occurs in those who go from moderately inactive to moderately active.

In patients with various chronic diseases, physical activity can change several conditions in different ways.

The benefits of physical activity works differently to those trying to reduce weight.

Overweight individuals can improve their metabolic health by exercising, even if they do not lose any weight.

The AMRC provides a table about the evidence of improvement for people with chronic disease and the scale of improvement.

They cite evidence that

Physical activity helps to manage over 20 chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions.

  • In patients with COPD, physical activity improves cardiorespiratory health. Exercise reduces dyspnoea symptoms and increase the ability for exertion.
  • Exercise reduces cardiac mortality by 31%.
  • Patients with hypertension can experience a drop of 10mmHg with regular physical activity.
  • The effect of exercise on cholesterol is a reduction in LDL and an increase in “good” High Density Lipoprotein (HDL).
  • Exercise only has a moderate effect on losing weight. What it does do is change the distribution of fat by reducing the less healthy visceral fat. Some individual’s body weight may stay the same as muscle is built up but the reduction in visceral fat is highly beneficial for health.
  • Physical activity as a treatment for depression shows a moderate improvement.
  • Patients with peripheral vascular disease see improvements in pain free walking time and distance with exercise.
  • Exercise works as a treatment in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It has a statistically and clinically significant beneficial effect on glycemic control and the metabolic state.
  • Physical activity improves symptoms of osteoarthritis by 22-83% and does not lead to worsening of this condition. Pain is reduced, function is improved as is quality of life and mental health.
  • Exercise is weakly effective in osteoarthritis and leads to moderate improvement in low back pain. Overall, exercise increases muscle strength and coordination.
  • Chronic pain is improved by exercise.
  • Aerobic exercise reduces fatigue associated in some conditions. Fibromyalgia sufferers experience improved physical function and well being.
  • Patients who are treated for cancer find that it helps with side-effects of treatment, improves mood, fatigue and stamina.
  • Physical exercise improves cognitive function and consistently reverses brain atrophy in dementia.

In the longer term, physical activity has an effect on future ill-health prevention. It reduces the chances of developing serious and common conditions.

The AMRC say that

People in the most deprived socio-economic groups undertake 50% less structured physical activity than those in the least deprived groups. The differences in activity levels between groups and within groups mirror the profile of inequalities in health.

People in the poorest areas in the UK on average spend up to 17 more years living with poor health, died seven years earlier than those in the richest areas and are more likely to have several medical conditions.

Sadly there are no comprehensive programs that address this appalling fact.

As nurses, we can encourage people to exercise more by outlining the benefits – one person at a time.

Take the first step and we will all be better off.

To learn more about the “wonder drug”,

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges 2015. Exercise: The miracle cure and the role of the doctor in promoting it.