Is exercise the new prescription drug? Experts say yes

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Experts on the BBC 5 Live podcast, All Hail Kale, advise that exercise can be just as powerful as prescription drugs in boosting mental health. 

Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School in the US, John Ratty, tells the BBC’s All Hail Kale podcast that the latest research has shown huge benefits to working out: 

“I’d say it’s like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin, which means it does the same thing as these medicines do, as well as a whole host of other changes in the brain caused by our brain activity.  

“So, we get more focused, we get less stressed, more motivated, more encouraging of ourselves and more able in general to take in the world and deal with it.” 

According to a study by, Kanning, M. & Schlicht, W. (2010), Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on our mood. The study asked people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity, and periods of inactivity.  

The researchers found that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to periods of inactivity. They also found that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when the participant’s mood was initially low. 

However, Professor Ratty advises that there is a certain amount of exercise that you need to undertake in order to reap the benefits.  

He said: “If you exercise and burn around 800 calories a week, you’re going to get a little bit better and maybe a little undepressed. But if you go to 1600 calories a week you are going to get the anti-depressant effect.” 

With the second series underway, All Hail Kale’s leading man, is award-winning journalist, Tim Samuels. He discusses the health and wellness industry and investigates what foods, therapies, and lifestyles to embrace – and which are just nonsense. 

During the first episode, Tim interviews Dr Jack Kreindler, the founder of the Centre for Health and Human Performance who believes that the benefits of exercise can have a positive impact on cancer patients and their treatments. 

Dr Kreindler explains: “If you keep people fit during cancer treatment there is strong evidence that shows that people not only recover from surgery [more quickly], but we also see longer times to relapse, we see fewer admissions to hospital and we see a general wellbeing and quality of life that’s improved.” 

Kreindler argues that not exercising and is very unhelpful to our own wellbeing and that the human body is not suited to spend most of the time sitting down.   

He added: “We now know that if we remove chairs from kids’ classrooms obesity, even behavioural things start to disappear.” 

Samuels rounds up his investigation by explaining that we should learn from our prehistoric ancestors, by walking at any opportunity, sitting down as little as possible and pushing our bodies to the limits a couple of times a week.     

He concluded: “Our ancient ancestors may not have bench pressed boulders. But the day to day of prehistoric life would have kept them pretty fit. And it’s to our ancient ancestors that modern science and medicine now look, to optimise how we should exercise.  

“A routine that should basically be packed with walking, weight-bearing, pushing yourself twice a week, treating sitting down as evil, whilst trying to burn 1600 calories a week. That should keep your inner hunter-gatherer happy.”  

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