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Exercise is Medicine

May 8, 2015

On May 13, 2015 at 1 pm ET, Exercise is Medicine Canada’s (EIMC) Director, Susan Yungblut (@EIM_Canada), and the Canadian Physiotherapy Association’s Director of Practice and Policy, Kate O’Connor (@CPA_Kate) will moderate #hcsmca. Susan is a physiotherapist and a national leader working to promote physical activity as a chronic disease prevention and management strategy to improve the health of Canadians. Kate is an engaged supporter of EIMC.

By Susan Yungblut and Kate O’Connor

“What if there was one prescription that could prevent and treat dozens of diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity? Would you prescribe it to your patients? Certainly.” Dr. Bob Sallis

headshot of Susan Yungblut

Susan Yungblut

headshot of Kate O'Connor

Kate O’Connor

Social media is riddled with miracle cures, 30-day challenges, fad diets, and the “science” behind living a long and healthy life. Yet, despite the widespread proliferation of health and fitness information, the vast majority of Canadians can’t seem to reach the physical activity guidelines.

23 1/2 hours…

A few years ago Toronto physician, Dr. Mike Evans (@docmikeevans), created a visual lecture on the single best thing we can do for our health. The answer is physical activity. There is strong evidence to show the best medicine for both avoiding, as well as treating, cardio vascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and even some forms of cancer is exercise.

In this video the main message is “Can you reduce your sitting and sleeping to just 23 1/2 hours a day?” It’s pretty simple and seems like an achievable goal, but the reality is most Canadians can’t. According to Statistics Canada, 85% of adults and 93% of children and youth are not meeting Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. For adults this means 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, for kids this increases to 60 minutes a day to help growing bodies stay strong and healthy.

Intensity matters

I would like to highlight the idea of intensity. I believe there are many people who think they are

achieving Physical Activity Guidelines without realizing what is actually required. After all, if you can reach your five dot FitBit goal you must be doing something right! Well, not so much. It’s not just about the number of steps you take, but the quality or intensity of those steps. To achieve the minimum level of physical activity to maintain good health you have to be breathing heavy or breaking a sweat. This is an area where I think health professionals could be doing a better job at knowledge transfer.

Using exercise as a vital sign

Health professionals are experts in health, but I would argue they can fall short when it comes to prescribing common sense. When it comes to the questions asked during a routine check-up, your primary care provider will ask about smoking, alcohol and drug consumption habits, and check your blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI). But, measuring exercise or activity levels is not used as an indicator even though it is just as important a vital sign for measuring the health of the average patient.

Exercise IS medicine

What would happen if every health professional assessed exercise as a vital sign at every patient visit? As health systems are increasingly conscious of cost-containment, allocation of resources and quality improvement, there is something to be said for getting back to the basics. Today, health and fitness apps are the top growing app category with an estimated 1.7 billion people expected to download health apps by 2017. If economics tells us anything, there is a clear demand driving the market when it comes to exercise.

I would argue health literacy has to be quite high to trust an app that claims to diagnose a serious illness or help manage a complex disease, but the concept is a good one. We want to have more informed patients and citizens, but we don’t want healthcare simplified to the point of replacing a highly educated and skilled professional with a $0.99 download. What we need, however, are health professionals using this consumer interest to prescribe change. Exercise is Medicine Canada was launched to provide national leadership in promoting physical activity as a chronic disease prevention and management strategy to improve the health of Canadians. Buy patients and primary health care providers have to be on board if we are to move common sense to common practice.

For the #hcsmca chat on May 13, 2015 at 1 PM ET (time zone converter), we will be discussing how health professionals and patients use social media to share evidence, link to peers and monitor health news and trends related to health, fitness and physical activity.

  • T1: How does being connected to social media and technology impact your physical activity level?
  • T2: Can social media be used to increase physical activity or improve health outcomes?
  • T3: How can health professionals set a better example when it comes to exercise?
  • T4: Is it realistic to expect care providers to prescribe exercise to patients?

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