In her role as an emergency room physician, Melissa Clarke, M.D., founder and CEO of the BHE Group, sees all manner of lifestyle behavior that gives her pause. And though she can’t prescribe exercise to combat these lifestyle missteps from the ER, she does refer patients back to their primary care physicians for advice on staying active.
Why? Because exercise is good medicine.
“Even if it’s just getting up and being active,” she said, “studies have shown that decreases stroke and heart attack risk by 30 percent.”
In addition to heart health, we now know that getting a move on benefits us in a whole host of ways, including:
- Managing overweight and obesity: “Not only is this addressed by nutrition and caloric intake, but people who exercise are better able to keep their weight under control,” Dr. Clarke said.
- Protecting an aging brain: Recent research shows that when muscles contract, they release a chemical that decreases chronic inflammation in our bodies. “Inflammation is associated with every major disease we have, including cognitive decline. But there are cognitive improvements with people who exercise,” she said. “[With a prescription for exercise], you’re more alert, you think more clearly. With chronic diseases associated with cognitive decline, like dementia and Parkinson’s, there’s a decrease in the risk of developing those among people who exercise. Even if you have those diseases, there are benefits to staying active.”
- Handling chronic disease: “If you do already have a chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure, adding exercise to your lifestyle helps you better manage that condition,” she said. “You may be able to decrease the medications you’re on or even come off that medication.”
Dr. Clarke suggests people start with walking. “It’s the easiest exercise to do, and the cardio rewards are there. You don’t need any particular equipment, just a good pair of shoes and socks, and you can be on your way,” she said. If you already have a favorite hobby—golf, tennis or biking, for instance—you can start with those, because you’re more likely to participate in an activity if you enjoy it.
“Sitting is the new smoking,” Dr. Clarke said. “People who exercise have less risk of heart attack, stroke and other chronic diseases.”
The National Medical Association launched its Prescription for Exercise initiative earlier this year to educate its physician members about the importance of prescribing exercise—alongside pharmaceutical and nutritional protocols—in treatment plans for their patients.