Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Prescribing Exercise

            Like many who are interested in health, I have been an outspoken champion on the benefits of movement, physical activity, and exercise. For me, the importance of exercise is directly linked to brain health in the form of learning, mood, energy, and esteem. I also appreciate that exercise helps nearly all parts of the body such as the heart, bones, joints, muscles, and digestion.

            Research has been quite robust on the benefits of regular exercise and health. Scholars such as Charles Hillman and Kirk Erickson have been leaders in demonstrating the benefits of physical activity to our structural and functional brains and bodies. Now, a new article written by Dr. Hausenblas and published in US. News (8-5-15) raises the question I too have been asking for years, “Why don’t physicians prescribe exercise?”

            The article underscores the fact that exercise is one behavior, one intervention and indeed prescription that significantly impacts our overall health. The science is clear as noted above in that exercise is not only preventative, but it can also help treat chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and depression. I would also include anxiety with this list and there are still others such as cognitive problems. Research indicates that people who exercise regularly can expect to live an average of seven years longer those who are inactive.

            A new initiative called Exercise is Medicine ® focuses on encouraging health care providers to include physical activity when creating treatment plans their patients. A key component to this program is to have all health care providers assess their patient’s physical activity at every visit. Physical activity should be recorded as a vital sign during patient visits and to encourage able patients to meet physical activity guidelines.

            Research published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health indicates that more than 50% of the physicians trained in the U.S. in 2013 received no formal education in physical activity, and that they are not prepared to help their patients with their exercise plan. Dr. Bob Sallis suggested exercise be listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference as it is probably the most powerful drug available.

            The Mayo Clinic noted that nearly 70% of Americans take at least one prescribed medication costing us $374 billion in 2014. We are a nation reliant on medication and a culture in search of a quick fix. Perhaps exercise can begin to be presented as a medicine and we can continue to educate all ages of the benefits of exercise and physical activity to our health and happiness.