A team of US researchers have declared that physical activity is the most effective way of tackling the global epidemic and cardiovascular disease, comparing its effects to a "magic bullet".
The team of professors from Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University made their conclusions after evaluating evidence on physical activity and its benefits, publishing their conclusions in an editorial in the current issue of Cardiology.
However despite the huge body of evidence revealing the health benefits of exercise, including decreased risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and certain cancers as well as improved mood, energy, sleep and sex life, only around 20 percent of Americans take part in the recommended levels of regular physical activity and around 64 percent never do any physical activity at all.
Europeans are not much better, with just 33 percent taking part in regular exercise and 42 percent never getting active.
Physical exercise also becomes more important as we get older, as we tend to gradually pile on the pounds. Many individuals will start to gain an extra 1 to 3 pounds per year in their 30s, leading to some being as much as 30 to 50 pounds overweight by age 55.
The authors also warned that that with obesity a large factor in cardiovascular disease, now the leading cause of death worldwide, more emphasis and education needs to be placed on the importance of physical exercise, which could also be a more effective way of maintaining weight than calorie control.
"There are a lot of misperceptions about the role of regular physical activity, caloric intake and calories burned during exercise," commented Steven Lewis, one of the co-authors of the paper, "As a result, calorie restriction dieting has been recommended as more practical for weight control than regular physical activity, and this is a big problem."
"Most people have great difficulty achieving and maintaining weight loss solely by restricting their calorie intake," added co-author Charles H. Hennekens, with the authors pointing out that brisk walking for just 20 minutes a day can burn around 700 calories a week, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 to 40 percent.
Activities such as walking can also be enjoyed by most people, even the elderly, although the authors also recommend adding in resistance exercises such as weight lifting for added health benefits.
But despite their recommendations the authors believe that regular exercise is still too much time and effort for many, with 42 percent of the Europeans surveyed citing lack of time as the main reason for their sedentary lifestyle.
"If regular physical activity were a pill, then perhaps more people would take it," commented Hennekens.