GPs should ask how far you walk, not what you weigh as it is more important to your health, say experts

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UPDATED:

04:09 GMT, 6 July 2012

GPs should ask all patients how far they walk because it is more important to their health than either weight or blood pressure, say experts.

They warn that a lack of activity causes far more deaths than smoking, obesity or diabetes and urge family doctors to question patients on their exercise habits – particularly walking – and keep a record of them.

If patients admit to walking for fewer than 30 minutes a day they must be urged to do more.

Experts urge family doctors to question patients on their exercise habits and keep a record of them

Experts urge family doctors to question patients on their exercise habits and keep a record of them

The group of scientists from Canada, America and Australia believe that a lack of exercise leads to many cases of fatal cancers and heart disease.

However, activity can prevent hip fractures and there is evidence it may ward off dementia.

Professor Karim Khan, from the
University of British Columbia said: 'Activity levels are the most
important factor influencing our health.

'They are much more important than our blood pressure or how many times we breathe a minute.

'In the US more people die as a result of physical activity than smoking, obesity or diabetes. It's fitness not fatness.'

Professor Khan, whose study is
published in the Lancet, said: 'Physical activity affects every system.
Not getting enough can lead to a range of illnesses including cancers
and diabetes.

Research has found a lack of activity causes far more deaths than smoking, obesity or diabetes

Research has found a lack of activity causes far more deaths than smoking, obesity or diabetes

'You don't have to be an Olympian. If
people take more than 150 minutes exercise a week, including walking,
they probably don't need to worry about it.

'If they take less their doctor needs to be encouraging them to take more.'

Professor Khan said patients could
fill in forms about their exercise levels in the waiting room to save
GPs time during the appointment.

'Low fitness is a better predictor of
mortality than obesity or hypertension, which are health risk factors
afforded far greater emphasis than fitness by the media and most health
professionals,' he added.

The researchers are recommending that
doctors should record exercise along with patients' temperature, blood
pressure, pulse, and breathing.

At present the Department of Health
recommends that everyone takes at least two and a half hours exercise a
week – or 30 minutes spanned over five days

Exercise is known to prevent certain
cancers including breast and bowel. It also helps strengthen the bones,
helping to prevent hip fractures, which often eventually lead to death.

* Doctors say patients with a growing waistline have a better chance of surviving heart failure than their thinner counterparts.

This could be because fatter patients had more reserves to fight disease. Another explanation might be that obese patients seek medical advice earlier because they are suffering other symptoms.

The US study of 3,000 patients showed that thinner individuals of both sexes were more than twice as likely to have died or needed surgery to shore up their failing heart after two years, says the American Journal of Cardiology.

However, doctors point out that acquiring the extra weight round our middles leaves us more likely to develop heart problems in the first place. Heart failure occurs when a heart, weakened by disease or an attack, struggles to pump blood round the body.