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A run a day can help to keep the doctor away

The chance of major diseases including colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and stroke are all reduced with weekly exercise, according to the study published in the 'International Journal of Clinical Practice'.

"Apart from not smoking, being physically active is the most powerful lifestyle choice an individual can make for improved health outcomes," said the author, Leslie Alford from the school of physiotherapy at the University of East Anglia.

He reviewed 40 papers on the issue published over the last four years.

"The literature reviewed shows that how long people live and how healthy they are depends on a complex mix of factors, including their lifestyle, where they live and even luck," he said.

"Individuals have an element of control over some of these factors, including obesity, diet, smoking and physical activity.

"Although the focus of my study was on men's health, the messages on physical activity are relevant to both sexes and all age groups."

The review found it is never too late to start taking exercise, with older people seeing benefits from regular activity.

Guidelines are that people should aim for 150 minutes per week of moderately intense physical activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes five days a week.

Those who undertake more vigorous intensity exercise, such as jogging, can do 20 minutes three days a week.

A combination of moderate and vigorous exercise can be used to meet the guidelines.

"Ideally, to gain maximum health benefits people should exercise, not smoke, eat a healthy diet and have a body mass index of less than 25," said Mr Alford.

"The more of these healthy traits an individual has, the less likely they are to develop a range of chronic disorders.

"Even if people can't give up smoking and maintain a healthy weight, they can still gain health benefits from increasing the amount of regular exercise they take."

Meanwhile a second survey released yesterday has found that obesity and overeating are directly linked to excessive activity in a specific gene found in the human body.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have found the strongest evidence so far of a direct connection between the FTO (fat mass and obesity-associated) gene and increased body weight, which may pave the way for developing a revolutionary anti-obesity pill.

The research follows a discovery in 2007 that identified a genetic variant within the FTO gene as being linked to a high likelihood of obesity.

People with two copies of the genetic variant -- around 16pc of all Europeans -- were on average 3kg heavier than those without it.

In this year's study, the scientists bred mice with extra copies of the FTO gene, finding that the test mice, although healthy, ate more and became fatter than normal mice.

Professor Frances Ashcroft, one of the research leaders, said: "We can now think about developing drugs that turn down the activity of the FTO gene as potential anti-obesity pills.

"That's a long way off and there's no certainty of success, but it's an enticing prospect."

The study, funded by the MRC and the Wellcome Trust, was published in the journal 'Nature Genetics'.

Belfast Telegraph