It costs nothing, has no side-effects and a new study suggests even a low ‘dose’ cuts the risk of early death: Our expert weighs up the evidence for the wonder drug EVERY GP should be prescribing
Billions and billions have been spent finding that dream drug; one that reduces the risk of heart disease, helps prevent cancer, treats depression, vastly reduces the chances of getting sick from Covid, reduces the risk of dementia, improves sexual function and, crucially, has no side effects.
A drug of which the more you take, the greater the benefits.
With this medicine, we could begin to address the overwhelming crisis facing all healthcare systems.
It would be an instant blockbuster, but of course we need to have this new drug as cheaply as possible – and be able to be used by anyone without having to wait for a doctor to prescribe it.
For those skeptical of this wonder drug, we need solid evidence that it works – and rightly so, because it sounds too good to be true.
A large-scale review of 17 studies showed that just a small dose of exercise significantly reduced the risk of premature death
Amazingly, this drug exists and has actually done so forever.
The problem is that no one is really taught about it in medical school, and so few of us medics have ever tried to get our patients to take it (my colleagues and I were too busy to be wooed by drug company representatives and their complimentary meals and treats).
But in recent years, amazing evidence has emerged for this wonder drug; particularly in recent weeks, with two major studies – one looking at its impact on adults; the other on children.
A major review of 17 studies involving more than 225,000 patients and published two weeks ago in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that just a small dose of the drug significantly reduced the risk of premature death. And with each small increase in the ‘dose’, the impact grew even greater.
Less well known was another study published two weeks earlier in the journal Family Medicine, but the long-term impact could be even greater.
This looked at 60 children who received this drug daily for three months and compared their outcomes with 30 children who did not.
The children prescribed this drug had significantly improved lung function, in terms of how much air they could exhale in one second. Low levels are indicative of asthma; higher levels reflect healthy lungs.
Do I really need…
This week: Roleo tennis elbow trigger point stimulator, £88.07, amazon.co.uk
CLAIM: A table top device, this consists of a metal stand and two rubber coated rollers. You place your hand or arm between the rollers and move it back and forth to relieve the pain of tennis elbow, carpal tunnel (pain from pressure on the nerve in the wrist), and arthritis, says the maker.
EXPERT VERDICT: “This looks like a useful device for conditions like tennis elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome, because simply rolling your arm along the rollers gives a firm massage to the tissues and muscles, and can lead to some therapeutic relief from pain,” says physiotherapist Tim Allardyce , from Surrey Physio. “However, I don’t see this having a significant impact on arthritis because that’s primarily a joint problem.”
“It’s quite expensive compared to some massage products, but tennis elbow is incredibly annoying and can last up to two years, while carpal tunnel often ends with surgery, so it could be cost effective if it helps.”
Although the impact on the children at this point in their lives is not very great – affecting their athletic prowess – if they continued to take the drug daily for the next 50, 60, 70 years or so, their lung function would remain good and their the chance of experiencing respiratory disease would be so much less than their peers who were not given the drug.
I’m sure you know by now what miracle cure I’m talking about: it’s exercise.
Inexpensive, go to the gym, pump weight, beautify body, work up a sweat, share on social media, iron man, triathlete exercise.
Just walk or jog in all clothes and shoes, not for Instagram, and it won’t cost a dime.
And pretty much anyone, regardless of your health or age, can do it – it’s as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, and it really does have the most amazing results.
The problem with extolling the virtues of exercise is that it’s traditionally been done by the super-fit and the super-beautiful—who often advocate amounts and types of exercise that would deter a normal human being from exercising at all.
But as a middle-aged man whose pre- and post-exercise body is the least likely to ever be shared on social media, I can assure you that the benefits of exercise are for everyone — and that, crucially, even small amounts have hugely beneficial effects, especially when you get older.
I didn’t always think so emphatically – in fact, when I started as a medical student in 1995, we were taught that most illnesses were due to bad luck and that surgery or drugs could cure the problem.
But with the passage of time and the experience of treating thousands and thousands of patients, I’ve realized how wrong this is: much illness is due not just to luck, but to poor nutrition, smoking, poverty – and lack to exercise.
The treatments I give patients are usually band-aids – the only sustainable treatment for many types of disease is prevention (“sustainable” because it has no side effects and improves quality of life – and it’s free!).
And exercise is one of the keys to a healthy life.
The study I mentioned in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology is a good example of this.
Researchers from the Lipid and Blood Pressure Meta-analysis Collaboration – an international group of cardiovascular disease researchers – looked at all the published studies on the impact of daily walking.
Most people think that you need to take 10,000 steps a day to improve your health. The problem is that this seems like a lot and discourages people from walking even a few thousand steps a day, thinking they can never take 10,000.
As many of you may know, the magic 10,000 is a marketing ploy invented in the 1960s by a company in Japan that invented the pedometer. It happens that the Japanese character for “10,000” looks like a walking person, which is why they called the device the “10,000 pedometer” and said that 10,000 steps was the golden number. It stuck and became accepted “wisdom.” But real wisdom can be found in the data and scientific studies.
The step study looked at data where people had recorded their steps for at least a week: Their analysis showed that just 4,000 steps a day reduced your chance of dying over a seven-year period. For every additional 1,000 steps, there was an additional 15 percent reduction in mortality risk.
But the benefits did not depend on the intensity of the exercise, it’s on the number of steps.
In addition, the benefit was greater as you got older.
Inexpensive, go to the gym, pump weight, beautify body, work up a sweat, share on social media, iron man, triathlete exercise (File Image)
So the advice is really, whatever your health, just go for a walk, jog or run. While the more you walk the better, you don’t have to do much.
There is as much evidence for the benefits of exercise as I laid out at the beginning, but let’s look at a few key findings.
In 2020, a review of 150 studies by the authoritative Cochrane Library found that exercise can reduce your risk of death by an average of 13 percent (over the duration of the studies reviewed, which varied). They also found that exercise significantly improved quality of life for people with mental illness, respiratory problems and cancer.
A 2018 study published in the journal Sexual Medicine Reviews found that women experience improved sexual arousal after exercise — both immediately and with prolonged exercise.
And a study published last year found that people who exercised regularly were 11 percent less likely to die from Covid and 36 percent less likely to be hospitalized if they contracted the infection.
You only need to engage in a moderate amount of exercise – equivalent to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking per week – to experience these benefits.
As for children, the latest study (as reported and published in the journal Family Medicine) was based on children doing the ‘daily mile’, an initiative devised by Elaine Wyllie, the head teacher at St Ninian’s Primary School in Stirling, Scotland, in 2012 .
Although the school excelled in sports, only a few sporty children engaged in physical activity. So she encouraged the teachers to let all children go out for 15 minutes a day – if the weather was nice and without sports equipment or other clothing – to walk, jog or run to improve their overall fitness.
The impact was immediate. Not only on their physical health, but also on their educational performance and mental health.
Other schools in the area took notice and began to adopt the same ideas – and The Daily Mile was born.
The benefits were conclusively proven by a 2020 study from the University of Edinburgh, which found that The Daily Mile significantly improved the children’s thinking skills, reaction times and memory, as well as how they felt about themselves.
If your children or grandchildren are not doing this at school, ask their teacher, why not?
But let me leave you with this extraordinary fact: In recent years, study after study has shown that people who do not exercise are five times more likely to die in that year than those who exercise regularly.
That risk of dying is three times higher than the harmful impact of smoking. That’s how important it is to exercise.
So please go out and walk or jog, and do the best you can for your health.