Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, but just how good is it really? Enough to have it added as a vital sign that should be checked at every doctor’s visit? A group of researchers and physicians from Stanford and Harvard medical schools certainly think so! In a call to action they recently issued to colleagues, the group urged that exercise counseling should be made a central component to every medical visit, as well as making physical activity a vital sign and prescribing daily exercise to patients.
If you think about it, what other activity can boast the diverse array of benefits associated with exercise? Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and even depression are all benefits of exercise that come with virtually no side effects.
If exercise were a pill you can take, everyone would be fighting for a piece of it and physicians would be taking it themselves.
The “Viewpoint” piece published in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides a new sense of urgency about prescribing exercise to patients. It present the lack of exercise counseling during medical visits as a missed opportunity to dramatically improve a patient’s health. The authors also cite research that proves that when medical professionals prescribe exercise, patients listen. It’s one thing for people to hear on the news that physical activity reduces the risk for heart disease. It’s another thing when your own physician tells you that you should make it a priority to walk for 30 minutes a day.
So how can we make this a reality?
The researchers say a member of the patient’s health care team should ask the patient about exercise just like they would any other vital sign, and deliver that information to the doctor. The doctor would then have a conversation with the patient about what level of exercise might be manageable for them. The patient would have to agree to a specific amount of activity, the doctor would write out a prescription, and the patient would then track their progress using a pedometer, reporting back their progress at their next visit. Even more so, the researchers believe this type of exercise counseling should trickle down to the level of medical school curriculum and training of medical school students.
The damage that inactivity poses is far worse than what we can afford to maintain as a society. Daily exercise will significantly improve the health of everyone who partakes and we can’t afford to ignore that fact any longer in the medical field.