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Thursday, January 5, 2012

15 minute daily exercise is bare minimum for health

Just 15 minutes of exercise a day can boost life expectancy by three years and cut death risk by 14%, new research suggests. Experts in The Lancet say this is the least amount of activity an adult can do to gain any health benefit.

This is about half the quantity currently recommended in the UK.

Meanwhile, work in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests a couch potato lifestyle with six hours of TV a day cuts lifespan by five years.

The UK government recently updated its exercise advice to have a more flexible approach, recommending adults get 150 minutes of activity a week.

This could be a couple of 10-minute bouts of activity every day or 30-minute exercise sessions, five times a week, for example.

“You can get good gains with relatively small amounts of physical activity. More is always better, but less is a good place to start” said Prof Stuart Biddle, an expert in exercise psychology at Loughborough University

The Lancet study, based on a review of more than 400,000 people in Taiwan, showed 15 minutes per day or 90 minutes per week of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, can add three years to your life.

And people who start to do more exercise tend to get a taste for it and up their daily quota, the researchers from the National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan, and China Medical University Hospital found.

More exercise led to further life gains. Every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise further reduced all-cause death rates by 4%.

And research from Australia on health risks linked to TV viewing suggest too much time sat in front of the box can shorten life expectancy, presumably because viewers who watch a lot of telly do little or no exercise.

UK exercise recommendations

Under-fives (once walking independently): three hours every dayFive to 18-year-olds: at least an hour a day of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, plus muscle strengthening activities three times a weekAdults (including over 65s): 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, plus muscle strengthening activities twice a week

She added: “We hope these studies will help more people realise that there are many ways to get exercise, activities like walking at a good pace or digging the garden over can count too.”

Prof Stuart Biddle, an expert in exercise psychology at Loughborough University, said a lot of people in the UK now fall into the category of inactive or sedentary.

He said that aiming for 30 minutes of exercise a day on pretty much every day of the week might seem too challenging for some, but starting low and building up could be achievable.

30% rise in negligence claims against NHS

Clinical negligence claims against the National Health Service have increased by almost a third over the past year, with an extra £100 million paid out to victims of medical blunders. Nearly 9,000 patients claimed for damages after allegedly suffering at the hands of doctors or nurses, figures from the NHS Litigation Authority show.

It paid out £863m to victims of accidents in hospitals and clinics, up from £787m the year before, after settling 5,398 cases.

But a quarter of this was spent on legal costs, with £200m going to claimants’ lawyers under the system whereby so-called “ambulance chasers” can charge up to £900 an hour to pursue claims.

The litigation authority’s annual report is scathing about the current regime, which it claims is driving the “rapid growth in claims numbers” rather than any increase in mistakes by NHS staff.

Under the “no-win, no-fee” system set up by Labour so poorer people could have access to justice, known as Conditional Fee Arrangements, claimants do not have to pay for lawyers upfront. But if they win cases, the lawyers can claim big “success fees” from the defendant.

Steve Walker, chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority , said: “We believe very strongly that a regime which allows success fees and the recoverability of After the Event (ATE) insurance premiums makes litigation so profitable that solicitors and so-called ‘claims farmers’ are drawn into the market thereby fuelling the rise in claims volumes we have experienced.”

However he added that the body is “delighted” that the Ministry of Justice is acting on the Jackson review of civil litigation costs, which recommended that success fees and ATE premiums should not be recoverable in no-win, no-fee cases.

At the same time the Government hopes to save millions every year by scrapping Legal Aid in cases of alleged malpractice.

The litigation authority’s report shows that in total it recorded 12,142 claims against NHS trusts in 2010-11 but expects only 4 per cent to go to court, as most will either be settled beforehand or dropped.

Of these, 8,655 were clinical claims, up from 6,652 the previous year, and 4,346 were non-clinical, up from 4,074.A further 22,364 claims were still open at the end of the financial year.

The authority – funded partly by trusts and partly by the Department of Health directly – paid out £729m under its main clinical scheme and a further £134m under claims relating to incidents that took place before 1995.

This was an increase on £651m under the current scheme and £136m under the old schemes recorded in 2009-10.

A further £47.9m was paid out in non-clinical cases.

However these figures do not only include compensation paid to patients, staff and members of the public but legal costs as well.

The costs claimed by claimant lawyers continue to be significantly higher than those incurred on our behalf by our panel defence solicitors. This continues to be a major concern.

“The availability of Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) and the continued increase in their use by claimants in clinical negligence claims has also meant that claimants’ costs are almost invariably disproportionate, often significantly, to the amount of damages paid, particularly in low-value claims.

“In the 5,398 clinical negligence claims closed by us with a damages payment in 2010/11, we paid over £257m in total legal costs, of which almost £200m (76 per cent of the total costs expenditure) was paid to claimant lawyers.”

Alcohol advisory body stacked with drinks industry lobbyists

Drinks industry lobbyists now make up almost half the members of a key body tasked with advising ministers on alcohol policy, research papers show.
Seven out of 16 members of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group are from industry, up from just a couple last autumn.

Critics believe it is evidence that the Coalition is pandering to the interests of the drinks industry, potentially at the expense of the nation’s health.

Some nine million people in Britain suffer from the harms of alcohol in some, either directly or indirectly, while the cost to the NHS stands at £2.7 billion a year.

Don Shenker, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, believed companies were being allowed a bigger say in “setting the agenda” under the Coalition.

Speaking of the changes to the working group “I can only imagine it’s because this government believes that the drinks industry has a big role to play in shaping policy, in setting the agenda.

“And so they have extended the invitations to a larger set of people from the drinks industry.”

However, Anne Milton, the Public Health Minister, claimed ignorance of the body.

She said: “I think we have a communications problem in Whitehall because you know something that I have never heard of before.”

In opposition David Cameron talked tough on alcohol abuse, and the Conservatives’ manifesto said the party would ban off-licences and supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price.

In January the Coalition announced that retailers would be banned from selling drinks for less than the value of duty and VAT.

But they will not have to take into account the cost of producing the drinks, meaning they will still be able to sell drinks at a net loss.

The Coalition has pursued an approach of working with industry, arguing it will be more effective than legislation.

However, in March eight organisations pulled out of the Coalition’s Public Health Responsibility Deal – including Alcohol Concern, the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the British Liver Trust.

They wrote to Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, saying the deal on alcohol – which includes voluntary agreements with industry – would not help reduce illness or deaths.

At the time Mr Lansley said imposing laws was often “costly” and they could “take years” to implement.

A spokesman for the Department of Health yesterday re-iterated that argument.

She did not deny that changes to the working group had been made.

The spokesman said: “We are committed to challenging the assumption that the only way to change people’s behaviour is through adding to rules and regulations.

Alcohol limits advice confusing

The advice on alcohol limits is too confusing according to Debbie Bannigan the head of the charity Swanswell. She says that ‘units’ mean nothing to many people – and the guidance should be clearer and easier to remember.

In this week’s Scrubbing Up, she says that to have a daily “safe” amount is misleading and that some people – including pregnant women and drivers – should be told “no alcohol is best”.

Most people think they have a rough idea of “how much is too much?”, but ask them for specifics and they’re not sure. Who can blame them, when the measure that is used to define safe limits – ‘units’ – is so hard to understand?

While 82% of adults claim to know what a unit of alcohol is, 77% don’t know how many units are in a typical large glass of wine.

Ironically, ‘units’ become even harder to compute when we’ve had a drink, because the part of our brain that works that sort of thing out switches off.

And the concept of a daily safe amount may even encourage the idea that we should drink alcohol every day.

To add to the confusion, we’re bombarded with new “scientific” findings about alcohol.

In the last couple of months alone, we’ve been told that alcohol damages the DNA of unborn children beyond repair, but that it’s OK for pregnant women to have a couple of glasses of wine a week, which is pretty conflicting advice.

Reported health benefits from alcohol are rarely balanced with information about the risks, or the observation that the benefits can be achieved in other ways that don’t carry any significant risks at all.

It’s little surprise that people are confused about the impact alcohol can have on their lives.

But walk into any supermarket and you’ll be encouraged to buy alcohol.

My local supermarket’s “seasonal aisle” – one of the first things you see when you enter the store – has become a wine festival.

And the end of each aisle – the “impulse buy” space – is also stacked with cans of lager and cider, so selecting and purchasing alcohol is just part of the weekly shop rather than something that we have to think about doing.

The people who come to us for help are just like you and me, but they’ve found that their choice to drink alcohol has been riskier than they expected.

What can be done about it? Official guidelines could be clearer. Other public health messages are short and snappy, like ‘clunk-click every trip’ or ‘catch it bin it kill it’. We shouldn’t be afraid of setting clear guidelines and sticking to them”

They are designed to be simple and memorable, so we learn and apply them without trying.

Units don’t work this way, but a simple phrase like ‘one or two, once or twice’ gives us a simple yardstick that drinking one or two alcoholic drinks, once or twice a week, is a good limit.

Sometimes a clear, easy to understand and safe message is that no alcohol is best – for example, for children, in pregnancy or when driving.

Scientific evidence shows that even one drink can impair judgement when driving and that alcohol affects children disproportionately, especially before they are born.

A zero limit for drivers, pregnant women and children avoids confusion and helps us all to take responsibility.  We shouldn’t be afraid of setting clear guidelines and sticking to them.

With co-operation between drinks manufacturers, supermarkets and the government we can judge the risk of alcohol use for ourselves.

Not only can we reach the point where hospital admissions are going down instead of up, we can create a society that is free from problem alcohol use altogether.

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