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HEALTH MATTERS: Moderate activity daily can reduce risk of early death

By Dr Tim Allison

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A brisk walk or a cycle can do you good.
A brisk walk or a cycle can do you good.

Sometimes I think that my car is on its last legs. Or perhaps being a car it is on its last wheels.

Some parts are loose, and others don’t work as well as they should. Every so often the car comes up with warning lights. Maybe that is what I should expect from a car that has travelled the equivalent of more than nine times round the world.

However, it still runs and has hardly ever let me down. It is important to keep it moving though. Cars generally work best not when they are left parked for weeks but rather, when they are driven regularly.

It may cause wear to certain parts, but it keeps the engine and other parts working.

We are very different from cars, but there are numerous similarities and some things that we can learn about ourselves from how we deal with them.

Just like cars we are not designed to be idle, but to move. There are very many scientific studies that show the benefits of physical activity.

We are not talking about running marathons or spending hours at the gym each week. Even much smaller amounts of exercise can be hugely beneficial.

For example, a recent study has shown that just over 10 minutes of moderate activity each day can reduce the risk of early death by 10 per cent.

If a pharmaceutical company had developed a tablet or an injection that could reduce the risk of early death by that level, it would generate banner headlines across the world and people would be clamouring to get it.

But it is not a tablet or an injection, it is making sure that we keep active. This can be done in various ways such as a brisk walk or a cycle, or perhaps doing gardening as the weather improves.

For people unable to do this level of exercise through frailty or disability there is still great potential benefit from the exercise they can do.

I am no expert when it comes to cars, but there is another thing that links up to our health.

It is not generally good to leave cars parked for a very long time, but also it is not great for cars to go on short journeys. So, when we are not going far, we can be better off walking or cycling and that will improve our health too. It will also help us all by reducing pollution.

I could say more about the comparison between how we look after our cars and how we look after ourselves. There are the warning lights and MOT tests for example. However, I will save that for another week.

Dr Tim Allison is director of public health for NHS Highland.

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