What is the single most important thing I can do to improve my physical health?

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What is the single most important thing you can do for your physical health? 

Apparently, this intervention can dramatically reduce disability and pain from knee arthritis (47%), progression of Alzheimer’s dementia (50%), development of diabetes (58%), hip fracture in postmenopausal women (41%), anxiety (47%), depression (30-47%), lower the risk of death (23%), is the first line treatment for fatigue and can dramatically improve quality of life.

The entertaining 9 minute video below (that has been seen approaching 4 million times on the Internet) explains what it is and the answer may surprise you. If you want to watch the video first to find out, then I suggest you don’t read below this line! Or you can skip the video, scroll down and go straight to the answer and read further.

Dr Mike Evans is a professor of family medicine and public health in Toronto Canada.




The answer is exercise!

And, according to the video, it does not have to be very much. Simply regular walking for 1/2 to 1 hour a day can have this dramatic beneficial effect described above. Although more activity is better, the rate of return declines after 20-30 minutes a day. The biggest difference comes from not doing any exercise to just doing something. He states that women who go from zero activity to just one hour a week can reduce their risk of heart disease by almost 50%.

This 30 minutes of exercise a day can be broken down into short 10 minute bursts 3 times a day. Higher intensity exercise in less time is equivalent to lower intensity exercise.

But just walking to work for more than 10 minutes a day can have a dramatic effect on health and your life in a more holistic sense (see Sharpening the Saw). Apparently every 10 minute increase in walking to work can reduce your likelihood of getting high blood pressure by 12%. The key issue is that being sedentary is very bad for your physical health.

Almost 2500 years ago Hippocrates (370-460 BC) was able to say, “Walking is a man’s best medicine.”

So what can you do your daily routine to ensure that you get just 30 minutes of simple walking or its equivalent every day? It is so easy to make excuses that there is nothing I can do (believe me, I’ve been there!), but the key is to remember that developing healthy habits is a part of the Law of Process. For me it means 20 minutes of swimming 4-6 times a week and taking opportunities to walk as often as I can. (At the beginning of 2013 I set a personal target for  my weight to achieve by the end of the year you can read about here.)

The video ends by giving a powerful paradigm shift (and part 2) in terms of thinking by asking: Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 1/2 hours a day?

It would be great to have your thoughts and comments below.

If you would like to publicly commit to an action you would like to take in light of the video that would be great too!

(If you enjoyed this video by Dr Mike Evans you may also find this additional one on stress also very interesting).




3 thoughts on “What is the single most important thing I can do to improve my physical health?”

    1. Yes I try to do that as well Julian.
      Especially when on the tube in London I try to use the stairs rather than the elevators or lifts. The 10 minute bursts of exercise 3 times a day seems very doable then.

  1. When you physically move your physiology changes which has clear positive effects on your brain.
    Hence the power of exercise in improving mental health

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    This information is for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to be personal medical advice. Please ask your physician about any health guidelines seen in this blog, as everyone is different in his or her medical needs.