The Prescription You Can Fill With ExercisePhysical exercise
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
I recently came across a program started in Ohio called Walk with a Doc. It was founded by a cardiologist who invited his patients to go on a walk with him at a local park. The doctor did this, because he was not seeing the behavioral changes that he wanted to see in his patients in a clinical setting. Their mission is to “encourage healthy physical activity in people of all ages, and reverse the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle in order to improve the health and wellbeing of the country.”
There are now 400 Walk with a Doc chapters worldwide.
Clearly, the benefits of some form of physical activity or exercise, including walking, cannot be overstated. We have already addressed many of the benefits of exercise, including decreased cancer risk, lower blood sugar levels for diabetics, better quality of life and longevity.
Indeed when it comes to walking, thousands of years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates said, "[w]alking is man's best medicine." However, many of us aren’t taking our “medicine,” perhaps because it is not formally prescribed by a doctor. It has been said that “if it was a pill, exercise would be a trillion-dollar money-maker prescribed to everyone.”
Now, reportedly, a program in Canada called Prescription to Get Active, gives doctors the ability to prescribe free 30-day gym memberships to their patients. (It’s really not any different from the concept of prescribing vegetables).
“There have also been calls for exercise to be considered a vital sign, much like blood pressure and heart rate. Health insurance provider Kaiser Permanente requires doctors in the United States to record how much physical activity a patient does.”
But despite a Statista report claiming that in 2017 U.S. fitness centers had a total membership of 60.87 million, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that only 23% of Americans get enough exercise.
And the World Health Organization (WHO) says that physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.
Clearly, exercise needs to be treated by all in the medical field as a powerful method of disease prevention and treatment, because it is!
So How Can We Be Proactive?
We need to start with how doctors are trained. Many practising physicians receive very little, if any, training on the “role of exercise in managing disease.”
“Exercise as a therapy is mentioned in almost all prevention and treatment guidelines, which are written by doctors themselves. Still, most patients never hear their doctor talk about it,” according to one report.
We Have to Take Matters into Our Own Hands
We cannot solely depend on doctors and prescription medications, like blood pressure-lowering drugs and antidepressants, to keep us healthy.
“The need for this change in approaching health and disease comes from two key realizations. One is that there are a growing number of people with preventable chronic illness, and our health-care system is not adequately prepared to deal with all these patients,” the report says.
“Our system is reactionary; it is designed to wait until someone has a disease instead of preventing it. But chronic illnesses are not like diseases of old. They cannot be cured, although many can be prevented. Exercise is increasingly recognized as important to this change.”
So it is up to us as healthcare consumers to be proactive about our own health by making sure we consistently get adequate exercise (even if we do not have any existing health problems). The beauty of exercise is that you can pick an activity you actually enjoy such as hiking, running, playing golf or other sports, practicing yoga or maybe you like the challenge of lifting weights and seeing the results in your muscle definition. There is something for everyone.
There are also small lifestyle changes you can make that may make a world of difference. For example, current exercise guidelines say that Americans should aim to get:
- 150 minutes (2.5 hours) to 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise per week.
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week.
You can also get an equivalent combination of moderate intensity exercise and vigorous exercise. Whatever you decide, you do not need to do it all at once, and small steps (literally) can easily help you attain this weekly exercise goal. It could be something as simple as parking further away in the parking lot from the entrance door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for walks during your lunch break.
I think that this report outlines some great recommendations from current exercise guidelines. The ones for kids are especially helpful. Children aged 6-17 actually need an hour of exercise a day, which may at first seem like a lot if your child does not play sports and does a lot of activities on computers and ipads (which many children do these days). To help your child get an hour of exercise a day, implement fun activities like jump roping, which helps with bone strength.
(To learn more about exercise and relation to age, read here).
The importance of Reducing Belly Fat
Sure, many of us want less belly fat so that we can have a more trim waistline. But, as we have discussed before, belly fat (visceral fat) grows deep inside the stomach and may wrap around your vital organs. It may increase your risk of developing diabetes and fatty liver disease. According to recent research, exercise, such as biking, significantly reduces belly fat in humans.
“We all know that exercise promotes better health, and now we also know that regular exercise training reduces abdominal fat mass and thereby potentially also the risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases," said one of the lead researchers, in this report.
Fuel Your Body Properly
You will also need specific nutrients to help you successfully follow through on your weekly exercise goals. You need vitamin D for strong bones. Without strong bones, it would be hard to go for a hike or run. You also need iron, because an iron deficiency can impair muscle function. Read here about specific nutrients that can help you exercise more efficiently and help you recover post-exercise.
Finally, it is highly recommended you take routine nutrient tests. Being nutritionally balanced will help ensure you are doing all you can do to prevent and manage disease as well as perform best at your workouts. If you discover you have too much or too little of a specific nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you to make the necessary dietary changes or possibly recommend quality supplements.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.