My husband, Dick, recently visited his physician for a conference following his annual physical examination. My husband is very conscientious about monitoring his health, so he was eager to receive the results of his tests. One red flag showed upa modest rise in blood sugar, typically a precursor to diabetes. Instead of prescribing a drug, however, his doctor prescribed a combination of exercise and weight loss.
Specifically, his doctor prescribed 45 minutes of aerobic exercise each day. This activity would be in addition to the SilverSneakers exercise class he attends three times a week and the two 90-minute tennis sessions he attends twice a week. Even though Dick is in his 70s, his doctor didn’t give him a “bye.” She further instructed him to lose six pounds in three months. To make sure Dick didn’t backslide, his doctor arranged for a follow-up appointment to track his progress.
Is his doctor’s treatment typical? If not, then it will be if the Exercise Is Medicine movement takes hold. Two years ago, the American Medical Association (AMA), in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), announced its long-term campaign to encourage physicians to prescribe exercise to their patients.
According to the AMA’s press release, “Physical inactivity is a fast-growing public health problem in this country and contributes to a variety of chronic diseases and health complications, including obesity, coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, depression and anxiety, arthritis and osteoporosis. In addition to improving a patient’s overall health, increasing physical activity has proven effective in the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases.”
In the past, various groups (insurers, government officials and some medical groups) have outspokenly promoted exercise as a way to improve health, particularly given that two-thirds of the adults in the United States are overweight and, worse, half of those are obese. This alliance encourages physicians to include exercise habits as part of the information collected and reviewed during examinations, along with other vital signs, such as blood pressure, temperature and cholesterol readings.
Dr. Ronald M. Davis, then president of the AMA stated, “More than half of Americans don’t get nearly enough exercise and would be astounded to see how much difference a brisk 30-minute walk a few times a week makes in their overall health.”
Reinforcing the AMA’s position, Dr. Robert E. Sallis, then president of the ACSM said, “We already advise against smoking; recommending exercise should be no different . . . Exercise can have tremendous health benefits for patients.”
The Exercise Is Medicine program has six facets. The primary task is to advise physicians to prescribe exercises that are enjoyable and sustainable and will contribute to their patients’ health. The program also will encourage health and fitness professionals to promote exercise as a powerful medicine.
In addition, the campaign will encourage patients to initiate conversations with their physicians about how to improve health and wellness through exercise. The program will also reach out to the media to broadcast the message, to policymakers and advocates to ensure that the program receives appropriate governmental backing and to supporting organizations throughout the world.
For years, I suffered through and was treated for a number of medical problems (for example, gallbladder disease and a torn hamstring) that were directly or indirectly related to my lack of fitness. My medical insurer accumulated a file about two inches thick, and it was probably filed under C for “chronic” rather than “Carson.” With hindsight, I can see that my medical problems could have been predicted. After all, I was obese and significantly underexercised.
Although I find it hard to believe, as a patient, I never connected the dots (nor did any physician insist that I connect the dots) between my lifestyle and my medical problems. Thanks to Exercise Is Medicine, patients like me will get a “heads up” before they run up extensive medical bills (as I did) or, worse, before they develop chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
Exercise provides incredible medical benefits for a host of illnesses and conditions, and it is inexpensive and available to all. What better prescription drug could we find? Here’s hoping that exercise is routinely prescribed and that patients faithfully and consistently take their medicine.