EXERCISE IS THE BEST MEDICINE ACCORDING TO MOUNTING STUDIES, MORE DOCTORS ARE PRESCRIBING PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AS A CURE FOR WHAT AILS YOU [Corrected 02/23/15]

By Kelly, Jack | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

EXERCISE IS THE BEST MEDICINE ACCORDING TO MOUNTING STUDIES, MORE DOCTORS ARE PRESCRIBING PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AS A CURE FOR WHAT AILS YOU [Corrected 02/23/15]


Kelly, Jack, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The next time you visit your doctor's office, don't be surprised if you get a "prescription" to walk a mile each day or take the stairs instead of the elevator in your office building.

More and more studies are demonstrating the benefits of exercise. And as awareness grows, more doctors are urging patients to incorporate exercise in their daily routines as a cheap and effective treatment for a wide assortment of ailments and diseases.

"Exercise is one of the most effective, accessible and affordable medicines we can use," said obstetrician/gynecologist Beth Prairie of Midlife Women's Associates, an Allegheny Health Network practice - with offices in Bethel Park, Bloomfield and Wexford - dedicated to helping women transition through menopause.

These days, she directs patients at least 50 percent of the time to pursue exercise as part of their treatment.

Vonda Wright, director of PRIMA (Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes) for UPMC Sports Medicine, agrees. "There are 33 chronic diseases that are modified by the medicine of motion," she said. "Mobility as medicine changes us right down to our stem cells."

In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine teamed with the American Medical Association to launch the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, which urges health care providers to include physical activity when creating treatment programs.

A third of adults who saw a doctor in the previous year were told to exercise, according to a 2010 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's up from 23 percent in 2000.

While researchers believe an active lifestyle contributes to long-term health, most people still get little to no exercise. Fifty-six percent of American adults - including 40 percent of primary care physicians and 36 percent of medical students - don't meet American Heart Association physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

If doctors "medicalized" physical inactivity, exercise could be the prescription of choice for heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers, wrote Michael Joyner, professor of anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic, in a commentary in the Journal of Physiology in 2012.

Historic views

The benefits of exercise were recognized in the ancient world. "Walking is man's best medicine," said Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), the ancient Greek physician considered the father of medicine.

"Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it," said the philosopher Plato (427-327 B.C.).

But "exercise was not considered part of medicine" in the 1950s when Kenneth Cooper went to medical school.

"If you had a heart attack, you were told to lie flat on your back in bed for six weeks," said Dr. Cooper, who at 83 is still very active. "If you lived in a two-story house, you were told to move to a one-story house because you should no longer walk up and down a flight of stairs."

There's been a "tremendous" change in physician attitudes and awareness since then, said Dr. Cooper, who helped shape the new understanding with his groundbreaking 1968 book, "Aerobics." He founded the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, beginning with its research arm, The Cooper Institute, in 1970.

In Pittsburgh recently, Michelle Coleman of Penn Hills was surprised when Dr. Wright prescribed exercise for treatment of a dislocated kneecap and a strained anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for her daughter Aaliyah, 16, a sophomore at Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport. …

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