Walking is free – why are we paying for alternatives?

Several papers lead on the story today that taking regular exercise reduces your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, here from @lauradonlee in the Telegraph and Sophie Borland in the Mail. Seven different lifestyle factors (weight, smoking, blood pressure, healthy diet etc) were reviewed, all of which are common sense but not previously specifically linked to Alzheimer’s prevention.

The thing is, exercise is vital for health. If exercise were a pill, it would be the most cost effective medicine ever. And therein lies a vital message for the NHS and the public – unless we all build more exercise into our day, we will suffer avoidable disease and have to pay more taxes for the treatment. And we are talking easy stuff – walking part of the way to work, taking a walk at lunchtime etc. To state the obvious, exercise is free, and it seems bizarre that we have forgotten how important it is. Social prescribing – an approach that seeks to improve health by tackling patients’ social and physical wellbeing – has more recently tried to remind us of how crucial physical activity is. Social prescribing (to dance classes, walking groups, knitting socials and cookery clubs) is a low cost approach, but really we should be aiming for a no-cost solution where people are signposted to groups and organisations that have realised they are interdependent ‘assets’ – individuals who have got together, shared their experiences and understanding in order to help each other.

I think we should be asking the question, if there is a free solution to a medical problem, and an individual is able to exercise, why should the tax-payer fund the solution that costs? It may be that after lifestyle changes the problem remains in which case medication is required and should be provided as usual. But in the first instance, if they can’t be bothered to walk, why shouldn’t they pay for the costly alternative?

Just as a reminder, the list from Boots on the benefits of exercise:

  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep
  • It strengthens your heart
  • It increases energy levels
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • It improves muscle tone and strength
  • It strengthens and builds bones
  • It helps reduce body fat
  • It makes you look fit and healthy

Why not?


About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social pioneer, writer, campaigner and commentator. Formerly a clinical optometrist specialising in diabetes and visual impairment, she is the founder and Director of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal and Social. 2020health has through research, events and campaigning influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. In 2014, 2020health were founding partners of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Since 2016, 2020health has increasingly focused on digital health and public health in the community. Julia is a Fellow of the RSA and now also a part-time PhD student at the UCL Interaction Centre, studying the use of digital technology for stress management in the workplace. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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