Policy Corner: Prescribing Physical Activity Makes Both Fiscal and Health Sense

ACSM has been promoting the value of the Exercise is Medicine® initiative, the goal of which is to ensure health care providers are promoting and prescribing, as appropriate, physical activity for their patients. Prescribing physical activity for preventing and treating various conditions is a reality for health care professionals all over the world. Recent news from the Swedish Research Council shows that 90 percent of all primary care centers in Sweden prescribe physical activity. The book Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease is often used in Sweden as a handbook when prescribing physical activity. Recently, this book at the forefront of the Swedish health care system has been translated into English.

Written by 95 experts, Physical Activity in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease summarizes up-to-date scientific knowledge on preventing and treating various diseases and conditions on which physical activity has a documented effect. The first Swedish edition of the book came out in 2003, and a revised and expanded edition was published in 2008. The book was prepared by the editorial board of Professional Associations for Physical Activity, a sub-section of the Swedish Society of Medicine, and it was produced in cooperation with Swedish National Institute of Public Health. In Sweden, health care professionals have been prescribing physical activity to patients for many years.

In the U.S. for 2011, ACSM is taking a leadership role in creating “Exercise is Medicine” legislation which seeks to:
  • Expand health promotion and disease prevention in medical education;
  • Make physical activity and healthy lifestyles part of the patient visit;
  • Increase the value of activity/healthy lifestyle counseling in the health care system; and
  • Build support for reimbursement to clinical exercise physiologists for working with patients who have specific chronic diseases.
The research that physical activity is key in preventing many diseases is not in question, and there is ongoing work to demonstrate that the prescription of physical activity is not only responsible health care but also a fiscal solution to the national health crisis.

Effects of physical activity and direct recommendations of exercise activities have scientifically demonstrated results for people with more than 40 conditions, including: asthma, anxiety, cancer, coronary artery disease, dementia, depression, Type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, osteoporosis, pain, peripheral artery disease, post-polio, schizophrenia, stroke and more.

ACSM policy leaders expect to have Exercise is Medicine legislation filed early in 2011. Look for updates in future Policy Corner features. To find out more about ACSM’s legislative initiatives, please contact Sean Keefer, director of government relations and health policy, at skeefer@acsm.org.