By Dr. Kenneth Cooper
It is ironic that in today’s high-tech health-care world that something as simple as exercise can create measurable health benefits. If you were told that a certain pill could boost your immune system, lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis, you might say, I’m interested! If I told you the same pill will also boost brain power, reduce depression, improve feelings of well-being and improve your endurance and strength, WITHOUT ANY NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS, you probably would be sold on taking that pill, and then ask. So what is it? That pill is EXERCISE! Exercise has been shown to produce all of the above effects.
If exercise were a pill, we would not be able to manufacture it fast enough, it would be the biggest blockbuster drug of all time and It would be available in every hospital, clinic, nursing home, and health care facility around the world. The big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Merck would charge over $100 a pill for a drug that produced all of the above health benefits. So, why don’t people exercise? Why don’t they embrace this wonder drug… Nature’s health elixir, the answer to our diseases and infirmities?
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. 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.
”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.
Research demonstrates strength deficits of 8-10% each decade of life that will leave many of our patients living at a marginal functional level. As physical therapists we have the opportunity to make a positive difference in our patients’ lifestyle by giving them information about the benefits of exercise and integrating exercise into their therapy.
“We do not stop exercising because we grow old. We grow old because we stop exercising.” ~ Dr. Kenneth Cooper