Half-hour walk a day ‘is like taking a magic pill’

Walking for half an hour a day is equivalent to taking a “magic pill” that combats ageing and prevents premature death, an expert has said.

Dr James Brown surprised an audience at the British Science Festival by presenting the myriad benefits of a pill that could maintain healthy living and improve quality of life.

The wonder-drug was able to prevent obesity and diabetes, lower the risk of some cancers, relieve depression and anxiety, increase mobility, and reduce the chances of hip fracture by 40 per cent.

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It also improved the ability to think and reason, slowed the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, cut arthritic pain by 50 per cent, boosted energy levels, reduced fatigue and led to a 23 per cent lower risk of dying.

Then he delivered the punchline: “This isn’t a pill, it’s exercise.”

Dr Brown, from the School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University, added: “All of these changes are not seen in people who run marathons; they’re not seen in people who lift weights in the gym, or spend four hours running on the treadmill. These are seen in people who walk and who walk for half an hour a day.

“You can get all of these health benefits; you can get a reduction in all of these diseases that are associated with ageing, by just keeping active, by walking for half an hour a day.

“If there is one take home message it would be that.”

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During his lecture at the University of Birmingham Dr Brown outlined the “use it or lose it” philosophy behind keeping active and healthy as we age.

He stressed that remaining inactive for too long could lead to muscle loss that may never be recovered. This in turn could have a major impact on quality of life.

Dr Brown described one study that compared the effect of putting a leg in plaster for two weeks in two groups of young and old participants.

The young group lost twice as much muscle mass during that time – probably because they were more muscular to start with – but quickly put it back on when the plaster was removed. In sharp contrast, the older participants’ muscle mass was not restored after four weeks, or even eight.