Active Voice: Exercise is Medicine® - A Call to Arms for Exercise Professionals
By Anne Graves, M.S. and Tom Spring, M.S.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Anne Graves, M.S., ACSM HFS, is director of health initiatives and partnerships for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. Her background includes wellness center management, clinical pediatric weight management, community-based weight management and diabetes prevention. Tom Spring, M.S., ACSM HFS/CES, is program manager of corporate and community health promotion with the Beaumont Health Care System in Detroit. He has faculty affiliations with the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Detroit. His experience includes weight management, fitness training and corporate health promotion. The topic of this commentary relates to a program session presented by these authors at ACSM’s Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition last month in Anaheim, CA.

Overwhelming evidence continues to surface demonstrating exceptional benefits of physical activity and lifestyle modification in the prevention and management of chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular, metabolic and pulmonary diseases. For all members of our communities – young, old and in-between – it is critical that we increase efforts to emphasize physical fitness and health awareness through all available avenues. Unfortunately, patients consistently underestimate the detrimental effects of sedentary lifestyles and their risks for chronic disease. Physicians and allied health providers are in unique positions to influence behaviors, which must include evaluation of current activity habits and recommendations for increasing physical activity.

Type II diabetes, for example, is a key concern for the medical community and is often related to sedentary behaviors and poor nutritional habits that result in chronic overweight and obesity. In pre-diabetics, progression to diabetes may be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes, including modest weight loss and physical activity. Consequently, disease treatment must begin to include exercise prescription in addition to conventional medical therapies. Exercise interventions can achieve powerful therapeutic benefits for Type II diabetics. Supporting data indicate significant reductions in all-cause mortality and increased survival rates along with improved metabolic health and fitness.

Leveraging resources from health care systems is a first step in the process to mobilize our communities and cure physical inactivity. Health care organizations are positioned to influence and shift the paradigm from reactive to proactive, relative to chronic disease, through physical activity and healthy behavior promotion at the community level. Our experience convinces us that health promotion programs can be very successful when enthusiastically supported by health care providers.

Community, private and medically based fitness centers have a responsibility and opportunity to act as a key interface between health care providers and the community. Programs offered by these centers can have direct and measurable impacts on those with inactive lifestyles and should be encouraged to engage communities whenever and wherever possible. Developing resources and referral avenues for medical providers that are trusted and evidence-based should be a key focus of administrators within these centers and programs.

Physical activity, or lack thereof, should become a vital sign that is monitored, counseled and modified as part of medical treatment, as should blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In addition, physicians should become knowledgeable about general exercise prescription and available resources to promote physical activity and refer patients to qualified exercise professionals whenever possible. Fitness organizations and professionals should work with health care providers to establish a system to refer and deliver safe, effective exercise programming and give feedback on results to referring providers. There must also be an equally important emphasis on physical activity by the public. Patients and families should expect to discuss exercise recommendations during an office visit, much like pharmaceutical and medical treatment plans – just as is advocated by ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine® initiative.

To cure physical inactivity, we must mobilize and energize our health care practitioners, fitness professionals and community members alike, providing current and evidence-based examples of the power of exercise in preventing disease and managing health.