The benefits and risks of exercise: how exercise affects your body (Part II)

Written by: Dr Taher Mahmud
Edited by: Emily Lawrenson

For many people, exercise is a way of life – not to be missed, and not to be taken lightly. While of course there is such a thing as overdoing it, the benefits exercise brings us are not to be avoided. It should be a part of everyday life, both for the here and now and to help reduce the risk of certain conditions developing in the future. In our last interview with Dr Taher Mahmud of the London Osteoporosis Clinic, we discussed the risks exercise can carry. Now it's time to move on to the benefits. How can exercise improve our lives? 

Our first point should definitely be enough to convince you – exercise helps you live longer. Studies of elite athletes have shown that they have 67% lower mortality compared with the general public. Even by finding the time to walk an extra ten minutes a day can help you improve your lifespan – almost by an extra two years. The more exercise you do, the larger this figure becomes.

Other benefits gained from exercise:

  • Cardiac benefits – habitual exercise can reduce the risk of coronary disease, cardiovascular death, and other cardiac conditions, even in the case of secondary prevention (after already experiencing complications of a heart condition)
  • Weight benefits – exercise to prevent or treat obesity is incredibly effective, and can contribute to a great loss in body fat, compared to simply following a weight loss diet alone.
  • Cancer prevention and treatment – there is evidence to suggest that exercise may provide some protection against certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate, endometrial, intestinal, colon, and pancreatic cancer. For example, in women, oestrogen is thought to encourage development of breast cancer. Exercise helps to reduce levels of oestrogen, and therefore may help to reduce the risk.
  • Osteoporosis prevention – weightbearing exercise is proven to increase our levels of bone density, building up bone in order to help protect from weakening and fractures later on in life. Even in those with osteoporosis, exercise can help reduce the risk of fracture, when tailored to the patient and their needs.
  • Mental health – our levels of stress, anxiety and even depression can be affected by regular exercise. In those who suffer from depression, exercise is recommended as a positive influence and can help to improve self-esteem.
  • Cognitive health - it is thought that exercise may help to reduce the risk of dementia and other cognitive decline, particularly in older patients. Exercise is directly linked to improved cognitive function. Even in those with dementia, exercise and being active is important, as it has a direct impact on their wellbeing and can significantly improve their quality of life.

It’s not just serious conditions – exercise can help even in small ways, such as through boosting our energy levels, improving our quality of sleep, building muscle tone, lowering blood pressure, and feeling fitter and healthier.

There are many different ways to exercise, and whether it is to help with an existing condition, or as a preventative measure, it should be a part of our everyday lives. The good points of exercise far outweigh the risks – everyone can benefit from being physically active.  

By Dr Taher Mahmud

Dr Taher Mahmud is a distinguished consultant rheumatologist based in central London and Tunbridge Wells. He is renowned for his expertise in osteoporosis, osteopenia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and inflammatory arthritis.

Dr Mahmud qualified in medicine from King's College London before undertaking training at various esteemed institutions including St Thomas', and Pembury Hospitals. He also completed an esteemed research fellowship at King’s College Hospital, also gaining an MD and a Master’s in biochemistry. He further honed his skills in rheumatology through specialist training at King's College, the Lupus Unit at St Thomas', and Guy's Hospital Rheumatology Units. Dr Mahmud has served as a consultant rheumatologist since 2000, and was awarded fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 2014. Boasting more than 30 years of experience, Dr Mahmud has held various prominent roles throughout his career, including as cofounder and clinical lead for osteoporosis at the London Osteoporosis Clinic, and has also received a Clinical Excellence Award in recognition of his excellence and dedication to his practice. He currently sees private patients at HCA UK, The Shard and 25 Harley Street.

Additional to his clinical practice, Dr Mahmud has held a number of esteemed positions in public associations throughout his career, with a particular focus on improving patient experience and outcomes, including as a member of the MTW Patient Experience Committee and as an organiser and chair of conferences on patient experience at the Royal Society of Medicine. In recognition of his commitment to drive improvement in this area, he was awarded an NHS Innovations award for patient feedback. He has also been actively involved in medical education throughout his career, having lectured and trained a wide range of medical students and fellow practitioners.

With a wealth of expertise and experience, Dr Mahmud continues to make significant contributions to the field of rheumatology. He has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed publications and has authored his own book on the subject of patient care and feedback. Dr Mahmud is passionate about raising awareness of the prevention of osteoporosis fractures and maintaining healthy bones. He has appeared on several podcasts as an expert speaker on bone health and osteoporosis and the menopause. Dr Mahmud is also a member of various professional organisations, including the American College of Rheumatology, British Medical Association, British Society of Rheumatology, General Medical Council and the Royal Society of Medicine.

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