Doctor’s orders: A prescription to exercise 


Doctor’s orders: A prescription to exercise 

The next time you go to the doctor’s office, instead of walking out with a prescription for medication, it might be a prescription to go buy a pair of walking or running shoes.

There’s a new kind of medicine more doctors are beginning to prescribe that doesn’t require stopping by a pharmacy to have the prescription filled.  It’s been around for a long time, thoroughly researched and well-documented to prove it works and in many cases, the best part – it’s free.  What is this miracle medicine?  Exercise.

Most doctors will talk about the importance of exercise during an office visit but now they are beginning to take out their pen and pad writing down the amount and kind of exercise suited to the needs of individual patients.  This is not a one-of-a-kind-exercise fits all prescription.  This is taking the time to understand what each individual patient can and cannot do in terms of physical limitations and finding the best-suited physical activity plan for them. 

Part of this movement towards relying less on prescription medications and focusing more on exercise as medicine is the skyrocketing costs we pay for pills.   Overreliance and dependence on medications are other concerns in addition to possible side effects prescription drugs may have. 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, only 20.8% of Americans 18 and older, meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic physical and muscle-strengthening activity.  Doctors have a significant opportunity to change this by writing more exercise prescriptions. Patients value their doctor’s opinion as reliable and credible sources of information.  It’s one thing for a doctor to tell a patient “you need to exercise more” and instead get specific by writing down “you need to walk 30 minutes at least 5 days a week,” Better yet, when the patient and doctor come up with an exercise plan together, the patient is more likely to take ownership. 

When doctors frame exercise as the “best preventative drug that everyone should be taking,” patients will take notice.  Another incentive is exercise has few negative side effects.  Plus it improves the entire body – from head to toe.  Here’s how doctors can convey the message:

·      Exercise reduces risk of diseases

Don’t worry if you haven’t exercised in years or feel too out of shape.  You need to move.   Becoming active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL)  or “good” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides.  Because of less plaque build-up along artery walls, blood flows more smoothly, decreasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.  Physical activity can prevent or manage other health conditions like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and arthritis.  

·      Exercise helps increase muscle strength and size

Sitting around all day doesn’t do much for your muscles.  Physical activity, primarily strength training, is necessary to keep your muscles toned and strong.  Creating more muscle mass means more calories burned during the day.  It also boost energy, makes daily activities easier because you’re stronger, reduces injuries,  improves balance, mobility and bone strength and helps you age gracefully by feeling and looking better. 

·      Exercise boosts brain health

Moving more means better blood flow to the brain.  Aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus, an area in the brain involved in verbal memory and learning according to a 2015 study.  Other benefits include stimulating the growth of new blood vessels in the brain increasing delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain.  It may also help delay or prevent loss of cognitive function associated with age reducing the risk of developing dementia. 

·      Exercise makes strong bones

Any type of weight-bearing exercise – lifting weights, jumping rope, walking, jogging,    playing tennis, dancing, stair climbing, high impact aerobics – will stress bones making them stronger reducing the risk of osteoporosis. 

·      Exercise control weight

Becoming and keeping active can prevent excess weight gain and maintains weight loss.  The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn.  Find ways throughout the day to be more active – take the stairs more often, park farther away from a destination and carve out at least 30 minutes of planned physical activity most days of the week.

·      Exercise improves mood and energy

Ever had a stressful day?  Of course you have.   Use exercise to help blow off some steam stimulating brain chemicals to help you feel more relaxed and in a better frame of mind.  It’s a boost to self-esteem and confidence, all helping to make you feel better about yourself.  Physical activity also boosts the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain acting like a natural antidepressant helping reduce stress and anxiety. 

No energy to exercise?  Don’t let that stop you.  Once you start an exercise regimen, the physical activity delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues helping your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.  When the heart and lungs are working more efficient, you will discover you have more energy.

·      Exercise promotes sleep

If falling and staying asleep are keeping you awake at night, exercise can be one solution. Regular exercise will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer once your head  hits the pillow. 

·      Exercise is good for your sex life

Think about it.  If exercise helps you look better, feel more energized, and improves self-confidence, there’s a good chance your sex life will be enhanced because of that.  Now go out and get moving.