How does one transform “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century” into the biggest opportunity? Physical inactivity is estimated to cost the United States about $75 billion in medical costs alone each year. According to the WHO, “3.3 million people die around in the world each year due to physical inactivity, making it the fourth underlying cause of mortality.”
Ever more sedentary lifestyles and the demands of our modern life make inactivity understandable. Unfortunately, understanding alone is not going to resolve what is becoming a potential crisis of global proportions. Action and leadership are needed.
We recognize that individuals need to be motivated to become more self-responsible, accountable for, and engaged in regards to their health and in developing their own positive well-being. Many patients defer responsible for their own health at least in part onto their healthcare providers and the healthcare system.
Healthcare providers, especially physicians, are well positioned to influence positive change in their patients when it comes to physical inactivity. And it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
How does one transform “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century” into the biggest opportunity? Step by step. Physicians can start by simply taking out their pad and prescribing physical activity. One patient at a time. One illness at a time. Little steps count. Patients need to be reminded that any increase in activity improves health. Take a walk around the block. Bypass the elevator for the stairs. Clean the house. Get moving. Your body will love you for it.
There are also resources out there to support healthcare practitioners in prescribing exercise. Chapter 60 in Clinical Sports Medicine provides a quick reference exercise prescription guide for common medical conditions: obesity, cardiovascular disease, COPD, diabetes, asthma, cancer, arthritis…they’re all there. Chapter 54 gives exercise prescriptions for neurological conditions and mental health.
More resources can be found at the following sources:
- World Health Organization. Global recommendations on physical activity for health.
- Swedish National Institute of Public Health. Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of disease
- The US National Physical Activity Plan
- US Department of Health and Human Services. The Physical Activity guidelines for Americans
- Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guideline Report
Take advantage of the resources that are out there and commit to prescribing exercise daily. Step by step. Patient by patient.
 Pratt M, Norris J, Lobelo F et al. The cost of physical inactivity: moving into the 21st century. Br J Sports Med bjsports-2012-091810 Published Online First: 7 November 2012