Exercise: Just What the Doctor Ordered?

One of the top fitness trends of 2011 is teaming physicians with fitness experts to bring the power of exercise to health care. That's because exercise is often the best medicine.

Studies say that physical inactivity costs the U.S. health care system about $102 billion dollars per year. The benefits of exercise for disease prevention and management are undisputed and with many chronic illnesses, surgeries, and injuries, exercise is an important part of treatment and recovery. But what looks good on paper is sometimes challenging for doctors to put into practice. According to some reports, only 34 percent of patients receive exercise counseling during their doctor visits. Why do doctors hold back on writing prescriptions for exercise?

  • Doctors may not practice what they preach. It's estimated at least 40 percent of doctors don't get enough exercise. Physically inactive physicians are less likely to recommend exercise to their patients.
  • Doctors have a short amount of time with each patient and may run out of time to discuss exercise. 
  • Traditional western medicine frequently focuses on pathology and complications, not prevention and natural health measures.
  • Doctors may forget to ask about or consider their patients' physical activity level when making a diagnosis.
  • Even physicians who do recommend exercise are unlikely to guide patients through fitness routines that are appropriate to their health.

Many adults face barriers to exercise that doctors may be unequipped to remedy, including lack of knowledge about exercise and concerns about safety and equipment. Many patients who've never been exposed to formal fitness programs find it intimidating to get started. That's why an increasing number of physicians are partnering with fitness experts and referring their patients for individualized guidance on appropriate exercise.  

This growing trend is part of a team effort between The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association, who designed the Exercise is Medicine initiative. Their goal is to make physical activity and exercise a standard part of global disease prevention and treatment. Physician referrals are a key component of the Exercise is Medicine initiative, which encourages partnerships between medical and heath and fitness professionals to seamlessly integrate exercise into their patients' lives.

How does it work? When a patient consults his physician, say for example, arthritis in his knees, the doctor recognizes he would increase mobility and decrease pain if he participated in regular exercise that specifically targets his weight, strength, flexibility and joint health. The doctor writes a treatment plan for exercise and refers his patient to his partnering fitness expert, just like he would for any other type of specialist. The patient consults with the fitness expert who evaluates his current fitness level, helps the patient set goals, designs an individualized fitness program, and instructs the patient on how to exercise safely. He also monitors the patient's progress, makes alterations when necessary, and encourages the patient to exercise consistently.  The doctor is updated regularly on the patient's progress and the result is almost always, just what the doctor ordered.



Exercise is Medicine Initiative

National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity