Physical Activity Prescription: The Global Goal

Sleep Better

Evan Stevens

Based on a talk by Jane Thornton at Take Control of Your Health/Wellness – Exercise Nutrition Symposium, University of Western Ontario

It has long been known that physical activity can help prevent, mitigate, and even improve chronic disease. Forever Fit Science wouldn’t exist if physical activity caused disease, and you wouldn’t be reading this article – a symposium like this would have never taken place. So if we know how beneficial it can be why do doctors not prescribe it? Dr. Thornton says that there are a number of reasons why physical activity is not prescribed more often if at all. One of the problems is that doctors simply are not trained to handle it. In their schooling most doctors never take any courses on physical activity as a prescription for disease. I thought it was shocking that doctors spent less than the equivalent of an hour a year studying nutrition during the entire time they are at medical school but I was astounded when Dr. Thornton said that some programs don’t even touch on physical fitness. As well, Dr. Thornton says, physical activity isn’t something that doctors can bill for. There is no drug prescription for it and doctors usually don’t have the time to sit with patients to talk about physical activity. Some will also argue that physical activity needs a consensus – as we know from Lisa Cianfrini’s Nutrigenomix talk people can respond differently to exercise, thus, how can it be prescribed if some people won’t benefit (because no one responds differently to drugs apparently)?

Dr. Thornton just shakes her head in disbelief at some of these claims. She cites numerous studies that show that cardiorespiratory health (one of the most important measures for overall health) can be improved with physical activity. As we learned from Dr. Lemon, inactivity is worse than smoking, hypertension and alcohol. See: Sitting Disease – The New Smoking. Dr. Thornton showed one study that showed that being skinny was not the same as being fit – you can be thin and unfit and actually be worse off health-wise than people who were obese and unfit. This deception that thin means fit is starting to be seen more and more in our society. 94% of our youth and 85% of adults do not get enough daily physical activity and lack of physical activity alone costs as much as $6.8 billion every year in health care costs. If we improved our physical activity by a mere 10% we would save over $150 million per year. Decreases in the rates and risks of stroke, Alzheimer’s, mild to moderate depression, recurrent breast cancer, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease high blood pressure, post-surgical outcomes are all outcomes that improve health, save on health care costs, and improve quality of life if we just exercise more. Where Dr. Thornton says exercise can have the most dramatic outcomes is in the senior population. The four biggest problems that seniors face are multi-cause morbidity, polypharmacy (too much medication), social isolation, and frailty and fragility. Exercise takes care of all of these. As we’ve heard through the symposium, exercise reduces a number of common diseases, because of this, it reduces the need for many and stronger medications, it promotes people being together (exercise classes, groups, etc), and it improves bone health and strength.

Take Aways:

  • Lack of physical activity and nutrition training in most medical school programs
  • Exercise not only viable but maybe more beneficial to overall health of society than drugs
  • Exercise proven to improve a number of disease outcomes
  • Exercise solves four major issues plaguing senior populations

Related Article: Fad or Fact? The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training in Aging Adults

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