Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

ABC of Sports Medicine: Benefits of exercise in health and disease

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 14 May 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1291
  1. P H Fentem

    The claim that individual participation in adequate amounts of regular physical activity can improve health and prevent disease is fully justified. The scientific evidence is based on many studies--epidemiological, clinical, and physiological. A working party of the Royal College of Physicians, convened in 1989, examined this evidence, recognised its importance, and based a series of recommendations on it.

    Coronary heart disease and stroke are identified as key priorities in the white paper, Health of the Nation. In these two conditions individual risk is dramatically reduced by a change in lifestyle and an increase in physical activity. Other important benefits must not be overlooked. The list is extensive but falls into four categories: enhancing function, maintaining reserve capacities, preventing disease, and ameliorating the effects of age and chronic disease.

    Recommendations of the Royal College of Physicians

    • There is now good evidence of many physical and psychological benefits available to the population from regular exercise which should be recognised by all those involved in health care

    • The habit of taking regular recreational exercise is best started in childhood and should be continued into middle age and where possible into old age because exercise helps to make the most of diminishing physical capacity

    • Doctors should ask about exercise when they see patients, particularly when they come for routine health checks, and should be aware of and advise on suitable exercise programmes

    • The value of exercise for patients with a wide range of disorders should be considered and advice given on the type and extent of activity to be undertaken

    • Doctors should be aware of the relevant risks that exercise may pose for individual patients. When exercise is of suitable intensity for the individual, is taken regularly and with sensible precautions, the benefits greatly outweigh any risks

    The task of achieving appropriate changes in lifestyle and of successfully promoting physical activity …

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