Health & Family

Doctors advise: Exercise is medicine

Aaliyah Coleman does a set of sideways lunges – a prescribed exercise. 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.
Aaliyah Coleman does a set of sideways lunges – a prescribed exercise. 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. TNS

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 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 Pittsburgh obstetrician/gynecologist Beth Prairie.

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

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 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.

In Pittsburgh recently, Michelle Coleman surprised when a doctor prescribed exercise for treatment of a dislocated kneecap and a strained anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for her daughter Aaliyah, 16, who suffered the injury playing basketball on the school team.

The doctor “had been talking about surgery, but after the MRI came back, she prescribed exercise instead,” Coleman said. Aaliyah said she enjoys her workouts with Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine.

That wasn’t always the case.

“The first day she came home exhausted,” said her father, Adrian Coleman. “She went right to bed – no texting, no talking on the phone with friends. Her mother wondered if something was wrong.”

Aaliyah and her parents are now thrilled with the progress she’s made since the workouts began last September.

“It would have taken her twice as long to recover from surgery,” Coleman said. “She’s already played in five games this season. The coach was surprised to see her back.”

Heart Association recommendations

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.

OR

At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

AND

Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

For Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol:

An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week.

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