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Why Don’t Doctors Prescribe Exercise?

Why Don’t Doctors Prescribe Exercise?

By Susan Williams

Quite some time ago I read an interesting article about an initiative being undertaken by some medical students at McMaster University who are leading a charge to prescribe exercise. 

One line in the article stated

If the province’s future physicians are open to prescribing exercise the way today’s physicians hand out pills, it could mean big changes in health care.”

The more I thought about this, the more I wondered why Physicians are not doing this already. We all know how important exercise is to our overall health and well being.

However prescribing exercise is one thing but actually getting people to exercise may be the bigger challenge.

Research has found that only 15% of Canadians and 20% of Americans are achieving the recommended amount of exercise each week. 

That means about 80% of us are not.

Given the increasing demands and costs on our healthcare system we really need to get serious about shifting our healthcare focus to preventing disease rather than dealing with treatment once diagnosed – and I think exercise should be one of these forms of prevention.

Let’s take type 2 diabetes for example. 

In a report titled Diabetes: Canada at the Tipping Point, it stated that “diabetes cost the Canadian healthcare system and economy $11.7 billion in 2010, and costs will rise to $16 billion by 2020.”

They report also stated that “over 50% of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed with healthier eating and increased physical activity.”

If increasing physical activity could in fact contribute to potentially slowing down the rate of type 2 diabetes with the added benefit of possibly reducing the costs to the healthcare system is this not enough for us to get serious fast about the need for physicians to prescribe physical activity?

I really don’t think that physicians would be opposed to prescribing exercise. I think the real challenge is we don’t have the delivery channels established to actually support physicians in successfully prescribing exercise. 

For example, we have physiotherapists to support recovery of physical injuries, nutritionists to support dietary needs but where does a physician actually refer someone for exercise? 

All they can really do is tell the patient that they should exercise and then cross their fingers and hope that they do it (and unfortunately given the stats we all know what the likelihood of that is).

Physical fitness support systems (both professionals and technology) should become part of our extended healthcare services that can then be prescribed and also then monitored.  

I think if a physician was provided support in place to help the patient become and remain physically active along with the ability to receive progress reports this could really benefit the patient, the physician and our healthcare system.

I really admire and applaud the medical students for taking on this initiative of prescribing exercise but think that this is something that we should be doing now. 

Can we really afford to wait?

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.