Exercise is Medicine

There is a single intervention which has been shown to be as effective or better than our best medication regimens when it comes to diseases like heart disease, diabetes, depression, stroke, heart failure, and many other conditions.  In addition to this amazing efficacy, the cost is negligible and the side-effects are generally things that people desire!  Think if a drug commercial during the evening news touted a medication which was powerfully effective in treating the most common medical conditions, free of charge, and had a side effect profile which included weight loss, increased energy, and better sleep.  Who wouldn’t want to be on such a treatment regimen?  And what doctor wouldn’t jump to prescribe it to his patients?

Of course, this treatment DOES exist!  Exercise is medicine, and it is one of the most effective treatments we have at our disposal.  Yet many patients want the “quick fix” of a pill, and many doctors assume their patients won’t bother with exercise anyway.  In fact, nearly 50% of doctors are sedentary and/or overweight!  (Can you imagine if nearly 50% of financial professionals in the US were bankrupt!)

May has been designated as “Exercise is Medicine" month.  While I recognize that my patients and readers tend to be an active bunch, that doesn’t mean that this is not an important message to pass along.  For many, the benefits are still worth understanding.  This can be great information to pass along to your friends and family who have not yet taken that first step or logged a run/ride on Strava.  We can all use a little motivation from time to time, and perhaps this will help renew your commitment to regular exercise.


Here are a few astonishing facts, courtesy of the American College of Sports Medicine:

  • A 2008 study estimated the healthcare cost of inactivity to be $102 billion annually in the US.  For our financially-strapped system, that is huge!
  • 60% of adults do not meet the minimum requirements for activity in a week (150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week),.


Benefits of exercise include:

  • Lowers the risk of colon cancer by 60%
  • Reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 40%
  • Reduce the incidence of heart disease and high blood pressure by 40%
  • Lowers the risk of stroke by 27%
  • Lowers the risk of Type II Diabetes by 58%
  • Twice as effective as standard medical (drug) treatment for Type II diabetes, and much cheaper!
  • At least as effective as Prozac for the treatment of depression
  • At least as effective as standard medical (drug) treatment of heart disease, stroke rehab, heart failure, and diabetes.


Exercise has been shown to:

  • Improve quality of life
  • Lead to individual economic savings through reduced healthcare costs
  • Increase work productivity
  • Increase academic achievement (and SAT scores)
  • Improve cognitive function in all ages

I think most people know that exercise is good for them, but few (including most doctors!) realize just how good it is!  Exercise is an amazing preventive medicine, and it treats many illnesses better than our best drugs.  The healthcare establishment has not been good at informing patients of this, nor have we been supportive of our patients in implementing appropriate exercise regimens, but we’re trying to improve.

Check out the resources available from the ACSM at http://exerciseismedicine.org/