The Health Gazette : Exercise is Medicine

Exercise is Medicine

I recently attended a conference at Stanford University on how technology is changing the practice of medicine and the effects of social media on medicine. It was amazing how many of the presentations were attempting to use technology to promote health through regular exercise. Medical schools are now teaching students to prescribe exercise as a powerful form of treatment for most of the diseases that are disabling and killing our society. The website www.exerciseismedicine.org promotes regular exercise as a treatment for disease and was started by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association. It is a good resource. Regular exercise alone reduces your chance of getting diabetes by 58 percent. This is certainly better than taking a bunch of pills. Approximately 70 percent of the diseases that we die of are preventable and caused by our own behavior, such as obesity, inactivity, smoking, alcoholism, diabetes and hypertension. So why is only 30 percent of the population exercising regularly? The answer is because most people don’t like to exercise, particularly when they first start. It really is a “hard sell.” What would it take to get more people to exercise? I have noticed over the years that several medical problems have persuaded my patients to seriously take up exercise. They are mainly high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, having a heart attack or a stroke, gaining weight and anxiety.

I wonder if we could completely overhaul the health care system by paying people to be healthy. Of course it would be expensive to pay them but in reality we could reduce the health care cost dramatically. One of the longtime Turkey Trot sponsors, Capital Health Plan, actually pays a portion of membership to a gym for their members. Diabetes alone cost more than $100 billion per year just for medical care. What if we reduced this number by fifty-eight percent? This is truly a classic example of why “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Another interesting website is curetogether.com. This fascinating website allows patients to see what treatments have worked best for their particular condition. An example is the treatment of anxiety. Over 6000 patients rated seventy-two different treatments for anxiety. Treatments included prescription and nonprescription medications, massage and even yoga. Interestingly, exercise was the most popular as well as the most effective treatment.

Exercise is the only thing that has been proven to reduce the onset of dementia. Personally, that bit of information is the only thing I need to know to continue exercising regularly.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was BJ Fogg, PhD who is the director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. He gave an example of how someone should approach a behavior change, such as regular exercise. It is better to start out with a short span of time such as one month as opposed to saying, “I’m going to walk everyday for the rest of my life.” The goal is easier to accomplish if it is only for one month. If you made it a year there is a good chance you would quit after several weeks because the thought of doing it everyday for a year makes it too much of an effort. If your goal is one month after several weeks you can say, “I am halfway through and another two weeks is easy!” Hopefully, after doing this for one month you would notice how much better you feel and want to set another goal. You could make it even easier by saying I’m going to wear a pedometer for one month and try to gradually increase the number of steps to what would be realistic for your present physical health. Ultimately, the goal would be to walk 10,000 steps per day. Behaviormodel.org discusses his model of persuasion in more detail.

One of the presenters at the Stanford meeting introduced an interesting device about the size of a pedometer which can distinguish between walking, jogging and climbing steps. The website is Striiv.com. It will be available in the near future. It records all of your activity for the day. The company has an agreement with a charity to donate based on the number of steps you take. You are donating clean water and vaccines to children in need just by walking. It also has games powered by your steps. Create your own enchanted Island and get rewarded for every step you take.

After years of practice I have concluded that one of the most important things I can do for my patients is to convince them to exercise regularly. One of my favorite quotes it is by Thomas Jefferson and is “Make time for exercise now or allow time for illness later.”