GPs should tell their patients to 'go for a walk'

GPs should tell their patients to 'go for a walk'

GPs should tell their patients to “go for a walk” amid evidence that Britain has become one of the laziest countries in the world, MPs have said. The Commons Health Select Committee report on physical activity and diet said family doctors needed to do far more to persuade the public to adopt healthier lifestyles - instead of expecting technology to save their lives.

MPs said Britain’s sedentary lifestyles were now among the worst in the world, and far more slothful than those in the United States. Latest data shows almost two in three people in Britain do not manage 20 minutes vigorous activity three times a week, their report warns.

In the US the figure is just over 40 per cent, according to World Health Organisation figures, while in many European countries, such as France, Germany and Holland, less than one in three people are classed as sedentary. The study used a standard definition of physically active as meaning 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week, or 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times a week.

It came as health watchdogs urged employers to do more to be more active during the working day. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NIce) said workers should be encouraged to stand up during meetings, and advised to walk or cycle to events outside their workplace.

The Nice standard on physical activity also says employers should encourage staff to set goals on how far they walk and cycle each day. MPs highlighted a rapid decline in regular exercise in the last two decades, with walking trips decreasing by 30 per cent since 1995, according to official records.

They said family doctors had a “crucial role” in promoting the benefits of regular exercise, even if such advice was sometimes resisted. Experts quoted in the report said exercise was a “miracle cure” which is too often overlooked by GPs, who had “forgotten what it takes to stay healthy”.

GPs told the committee that many patients expected to be saved by advances in medicine, not their own efforts.

In the report, one said: “Patients often were not ready to be told they had to go for a walk in the park when there was a nice shiny stent in a lovely brand new hospital down the road.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the committee, and a former GP, said far more needed to be done to promote the role of exercise in reducing the risk of a host of diseases.

She said: "The extraordinary benefits of exercise in improving physical and mental health should be made clear and accessible to everyone, whatever their current level of fitness.”

The report said individual doctors and nurses should use “every opportunity” to promote the benefits of physical activity to patients, and help them address problems caused by obesity and poor diet.

The report makes 26 recommendations to improve Britain’s lifestyles, including more powers for local authorities to limit the number of junk food outlets, and changes in town planning to make it easier for people to walk or cycle instead of drive.

The committee said it was “inexplicable and unacceptable” that the NHS now spends more on weight-loss surgery for obesity than on programmes which help lifestyle changes to reduce obesity, and prevent diabetes.

By Laura Donnelly,

The Telegraph, Wednesday 25 March 2015

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