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Exercise is Medicine - Judy Foreman ****

There's a certain class of book that can be described as 'it should have been an article'. This is where there are only a few significant points to be made, which would make an interesting magazine article, but the whole thing becomes intensely tedious when dragged out to book length. (A lot of business books fit into this category.) I was distinctly worried that this would apply to Exercise is Medicine - yet despite, in a way, it being true, Judy Foreman manages to make the book one that's packed full of information and an interesting read - even to someone who hates sport and doesn't like medical books.

Let's get that main point out of the way - exercise is really good for you. Even a relatively small amount - say 150 minutes per week of brisk walking - will have a significant impact on your health and potentially increase your lifespan. It helps all round from blood pressure to mental state. That's the article part. But what Foreman does is take a whole collection of areas where exercise can have an impact, gives us some scientific background to that particular area and shows how exercise can help.

So, for example, we've got chapters on ageing, why sitting down too long at a time is bad for you (interestingly, she says standing desks make little difference, so don't feel smug, desk standers), strengthening your bones (sadly one of the few areas where there's no benefit if you're middle aged or older), your mood, your gut biology, immunity (yes) and inflammation and more. Along the way we're introduced to everything from how muscles work to the role of mitochondria and the working of the immune system. It's surprisingly (for me) interesting.

A few little moans. I found the example stories of individuals living to great ages or whatever just irritating rather than helpful. It was too reminiscent of those people who smoke 40 cigarettes a day and live to 95 - individual examples don't tell us anything about the statistical impact. I also thought that Foreman went over the top on the wonders of running (seemingly her thing) - not that it's a bad form of exercise, but she didn't mention the impact issues compared with fast walking, she perhaps underplayed some other forms of exercise, and the last thing the world needs is more runners, as they are the rudest people on the pavements (especially as this review was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, and runners seem to show less courtesy in moving away from other people than anyone else).

Exercise isn't a magic bullet. You can exercise at length and still die young. But there is no doubt that it has a really big statistical benefit - and this is a great book to encourage the reader to do more, while providing lots of scientific background.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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