Is Exercise Effective Medicine?

We live in modern times, where access to information is becoming increasingly easier. With little effort, we are now able to look up any type of information on the Internet. In this day and age, I don’t think anyone will dispute the fact how important exercise is in the role of disease prevention and promoting longevity.

However, the question here is – “How effective is exercise as part of a treatment program for people who already have a disease?” It is still quite uncommon for a medical doctor to prescribe “going for a jog” as a means to treating a common cold. How about for more serious and chronic diseases such as Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, Auto-immune disease etc?

The president of the American Medical Association, Dr Ronald M. Davis, made the following statement on the issue: ” Physical inactivity is a fast-growing public health problem in this country, and contributes to a variety of chronic diseases and health complications, including obesity, coronary artery disease, cancer, depression and anxiety, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Increasing physical activity can prevent and cure many chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and joint pain, while improving a patient’s overall health. By engaging in 30 minutes of moderate exercise (such as a brisk walk) on most days each week, many patients will be able to get off medications for those conditions—thus avoiding the potentially harmful side effects those drugs can cause.” (Davis, R M, Nov 8, 2007)

In November, 2007 the American Medical Association (AMA) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) teamed up to form a collaborative organization called: Exercise is Medicine ( or also known as EIM. EIM’s vision, according to their website is: “To make physical activity and exercise a standard part of a disease prevention and treatment medical paradigm in the United States.” EIM is doing so by providing information, in the form of tool kits. These kits can be accessed by the public, health care professionals, fitness professionals, educators, and insurance companies.

While these two established organizations go through so much trouble in creating awareness of the significance of exercise as part of disease treatment, I feel their efforts may be futile. I believe that most medical professionals are very aware of the significance of exercise, the problem lies more in that medical professionals are often at a loss when prescribing the type of exercise. Every disease is different, requiring different treatment strategies. Breast Cancer, for example, requires a different treatment than Heart Disease. It also requires different medication that causes different physiological responses.

If this is the cases, then will these conditions then not also require different types of exercise?

The answer to this is yes.

For a Heart Patient, a 30 minute brisk walk may be fine, but how about for someone suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, or Dementia? The difficulty here, for medical professionals, is that exercise therapy is a specialty, much like physiotherapy or occupational therapy. The medical professional must therefore have access to a database of exercise therapy specialists to whom he can refer exercise to. The problem here is that many fitness professionals are not qualified to be part of a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals who cooperatively can assist the patient in the healing process.


Article by contributor, Marcel Daane BHS (Comp Med), CSCS, ACE-AFS