Essex Health: We need to get back to our daily exercise routines

Dr Hasan Chowhan

Dr Hasan Chowhan - Credit: Archant

I do hope you, dear reader, have had a healthier Easter holiday than I have so far.

I’m a GP in Colchester, still relatively young and I pride myself on doing a fair bit of cycling, but I still got the flu. Its not a trivial illness, I can’t remember the last time I felt so knocked-out and it redoubled my determination to make sure that my patients in high-risk groups get the flu-jab. Even if you take every sensible precaution, you can still get this horrible bug through bad luck (and because it’s caused by a virus, the antibiotics that kill bacteria won’t touch it).

So bad luck of various sorts will always be there, but I am a passionate believer, supported by a load of science, that we can do lots to tip that luck in our favour.

We can look after ourselves, or “self-care” in the jargon. Just this morning a piece of research from Australia reports that paracetamol is much less effective than exercise for lower back pain. My cycling is a desperate attempt to bring a bit of my life back to where most people were just a few decades ago – when we used to walk or cycle to local shops or into town? It’s now, I think, deeply unfashionable to walk anywhere – a horrifying survey in Colchester showed almost everyone who has a car uses it for journeys of under a mile.

But our bodies haven’t evolved to function sitting down all the time.

Even though we may smoke or drink too much nearly everyone knows that’s putting our health at risk – but not getting enough exercise? That’s a bit marginal isn’t it? No, all the evidence points to exercise (very much including regular walking) being fundamental to our health, when we are physically able to do so.

And that’s not surprising, given that our human bodies are designed to be physically active as any other animal. All the science is brought together authoritatively, as you would expect, in a superb recent report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

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They have looked at lots of research in all sorts of different ways about different diseases and conclude as their title expresses it: “Exercise: the miracle cure….” The combined research shows that moderate exercise (walking, say, or with my “dodgy” knees, cycling or swimming) for around half an hour a day five times a week does the trick. “Regular exercise can prevent dementia, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, heart disease and other common serious conditions – reducing the risk by at least 30%. This is better than many drugs.”

So exercise could well be our miracle cure. Doctors, me included, are not yet the way to that cure, we don’t apparently do enough to help patients to make exercise part of their life. We should, but it shouldn’t be a penance, it should be fun or most of us won’t bother.

At the Clinical Commissioning Group in Colchester, where I work for part of the week, some of the staff are trying to up their exercise and have fun: the “Tea Shop Trekkers” are riding from stop to stop, and colleagues are doing all sorts of “Workplace Challenge” stuff coordinated online through the excellent British Heart Foundation.

I’d love to come along and see what your team or you and your colleagues are doing, through work or otherwise to exercise more.

Give me a shout and I’ll ride over once I’m bug-free.