More and more doctors are hailing exercise as both preventive and therapeutic medicine, targeting a multitude of symptoms and diseases. In fact, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has launched efforts to teach physicians to prescribe exercise to all of their patients as a routine part of their visit. What are some reasons that exercise the best medicine?
It can be both preventive and therapeutic. Prophylactic exercise can prevent the onset of some of the most debilitating and costly chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Furthermore, exercise can be therapeutic. It is often prescribed as a treatment for conditions like osteoporosis and fibromyalgia, and is at the core of rehabilitation treatment for patients with developmental conditions and injuries.
It can treat the body, mind and soul. What other medication is so comprehensive in its effects? Besides its physical benefits, exercise has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, stress and other psychiatric conditions. Furthermore, exercises such as meditation emphasize finding inner peace and strength by connecting with one’s soul. Exercise really can be a whole body therapy.
It improves appearance, increasing confidence. Exercise tones the body, building muscle, burning fat and resulting in a more fit and often better looking individual. Feeling satisfied with one’s appearance increases confidence in interactions with other people.
It has no side effects. Many medications or interventions pose significant risks to patients. When done safely and in moderation, exercise can often provide the same benefits with little or no risks. Thus yet another reason to stick to an exercise regimen is that one may be able to avoid using high risk medications and lessen the need for surgeries with complications.
It’s free. Who doesn’t love free things? But really, with the rising costs of health care, exercise is a cost efficient way to stay healthy and avoid those expensive medical bills. Research has shown that regular exercise may be an acceptable substitute for antidepressants. To treat hypertension, exercise is often prescribed in conjunction with blood pressure medications, and adherence to an exercise regimen could result in lowering of medication dose. Imagine the substantial reductions in health care costs that can be achieved by a daily outdoor workout rather than a daily pill or injection.
It’s fun! Joining a sports team or exercising with friends can be a fun, social event! Even daily meditation or a run by oneself can be rejuvenating and stress relieving.
Despite its many benefits, exercise is being underutilized. Physicians have a unique role that is primed for educating, motivating and helping their patients to reap the benefits of exercise and so improve quality of life. You and I can help make exercise prescription a standard part of medical care and an essential part of the dialogue between patient and physician.
A Poem: “The Best Medicine”
What medicine improves the body?
Tones the muscles, strengthens bone
Targets abs, biceps, and legs
To enter the fat-burning zone
What medicine improves the mind?
Makes one think with clarity
Improves long term and working memory
–the best of any therapy
What medicine improves the mood?
Releasing endorphins in the brain
Increasing serotonin, relieving strain
Making one stress-free and sane
Some say laughter is the best medicine
And I whole-heartedly agree
But I would add to this prescription
A medicine that works, and free!
Exercise is my advice
It treats mind, body, mood, and more
So please whatever else you do
Do exercise galore!
The further I progress in my medical training, the more passionately I believe that exercise is the best preventive medicine. In this column, I share research regarding exercise as medicine, ways medical students can incorporate exercise into their daily routines, poetry on positive exercise experiences, and highlights on how doctors in the community are using exercise as a means to treat their patients.