Fitness Nutrition & Fitness

Physicians, Take Out Those Prescription Pads!

Make exercise part of your treatment plan

Why should physicians write a prescription for exercise? “Obesity,” said National Medical Association President Edith Mitchell, M.D., at NMA Colloquium, a gathering of prominent medical experts who addressed various topics, including violence and its impact on health and health policy, equity in cancer care, the Zika virus pandemic, the impact of breast cancer on black women, breastfeeding as a disease prevention practice and diversity in medical education. “Obesity is a big problem in this country, and African Americans are disproportionately represented.”

In addition, there’s a whole library of research showing exercise is just plain good for us.

We have a litany of reasons to be sedentary: increased innovation and technology, longer working hours, urban sprawl and unsafe neighborhoods among them. Some of us aren’t active for an age-old reason. “The reason I hear the most from my patients for not exercising: the weather,” Karen Cooper, D.O., director of Be Well Moms at the Women’s Health Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Colloquium audience. “‘It’s winter,’ they say. But if you’re living in any state where you have a true winter, that’s at least six months of the year where you’re not exercising.”

And since inactivity is a leading cause of preventable death—just sitting still for four hours can increase the risk—it’s really important to get up and move as much as possible.

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The solution, Cooper said, starts with physicians. “We are so influential when it comes to helping our patients make the right decisions. If you’re an example of being fit and active, you influence your patient to do this so much more.”

And then follow the American College of Sports Medicine’s step-by-step guide on how to write prescriptions for exercise:

  • Make physical activity a “vital sign” you assess at each clinic visit. “Ask: ‘How many days per week do you engage in moderate to strenuous exercise? How many minutes?’” Cooper said. “Is the patient following guidelines set out for us in terms of exercise?” The most effective way to accomplish this is to embed a “Physical Activity Vital Sign” into the patient’s electronic health records.
  • Determine if the patient can exercise independently or if he or she requires supervision.
  • Provide patients with an exercise prescription that can be tailored for their specific disease conditions, including those who have no chronic illnesses.
  • Refer patients to trusted networks of physical activity programs led by qualified professionals.

“We need to repeat this message as often as possible—you can call it moving more as long as you get your patient to exercise,” Cooper said. “To improve chronic disease states, it’s amazing how exercise helps with insulin levels and controlling cholesterol and all those cardiovascular functions. Exercise is medicine.

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Dr. Mitchell agreed, adding “including exercise as a part of your treatment program is a part of what Prescription for Exercise is all about. Embrace this program. Pick up your prescription pads. No matter what your specialty is, you see patients. Encourage them. Engage them.”

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