Prescription Get Physical
Posted On Jul 12, 2016
Toss the appetite suppressants, ditch your antidepressants, and trash your sleeping pills. Exercise is the one prescription that can replace most others, and help you live a long, healthy—not to mention happy—life.
BY ANGELA ARSENAULT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM KAPLAN
In this age of the ubiquitous prescription medication advertisement, it’s easy to feel like a well-informed patient—someone who knows all the options. You know which drugs are available for everything—from insomnia to aching joints. You also know, the lengthy list of scary side effects that potentially accompany those medications.
What if you were told that there’s a true wonder treatment for which you’ll never see a slick commercial? This incredible panacea is available without a prescription, safe for everybody, and has zero negative side effects. It also improves body composition, longevity, and your sexuality. This wonder drug: exercise. It’s astounding effectiveness has long been overlooked in our “there’s a pill for that” culture. Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery and author of The Exercise Cure, agrees.
“We have this medicationfirst society which is not in anybody’s interest—certainly not the patient’s interest,” he says. Dr. Metzl’s personal experience as a dedicated athlete (he’s competed in 11 Ironman triathlons and 31 marathons) has taught him firsthand about the benefits of regular exercise. As he progressed into his own practice, Dr. Metzl found that patients who were runners and athletes in their sixties, seventies, and eighties were exceptionally healthy. Their brains worked, and so too did their bodies. I started looking at the evidence for not only exercise as a kind of feel good medicine, but as medicine.”
Dr. Metzl says he now regularly prescribes exercise as both preventive medicine and treatment for many of his patients. One of those patients, Elaine, came to Dr. Metzl’s practice “profoundly depressed” after the deaths of her husband and her sister, both in the same year. She turned to running instead of medicine to treat her depression. Dr. Metzl added strength training to Elaine’s prescription and she’s now running injury-free—and antidepressant free—at 81 years old.
This combination of aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening exercise may be the magic pill that most people insist is a myth. Numerous studies have shown that 150 minutes of moderateintensity activity each week, and twice-weekly strength training, is the minimum to shoot for if you’re an adult with no chronic conditions.
The list of benefits derived from reaching this goal is downright astonishing and includes: reducing risk of colon cancer by 60 percent, reducing the risk of recurrent breast cancer by 50 percent, lowering the risk of stroke by 27 percent, and reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 40 percent. It can also be twice as effective as insulin prescription for treating type 2 diabetes.
As Elaine discovered, exercise can also improve mood and decrease anxiety better than antidepressant medication, according to some studies. Dr. Mary de Groot, a clinical health psychologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, sits at the very important intersection of mental and physical health in her work with diabetic patients who are also depressed.
With the incidence of type 2 diabetes on the rise globally and depression rates as high as 18 percent in the United States, de Groot is working to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that uses both therapy and aerobic activity. This sort of partnership is something that Dr. Metzl also wholeheartedly supports. “It is a trend we’re seeing, and bringing the fitness industry and the medical industry closer together ultimately benefits everybody,” Metzl says.
One rationale behind the building of this bridge is simple: People need support in order to succeed in implementing any sort of lifestyle change. This means knowing that even your doctor has your back. In an effort to get your physician on board, de Groot says that you need to be a proactive patient and be very specific in conversation with your health-care provider.
“If your doctor recommends that you exercise, ask your doctor, ‘What type of exercise would you suggest that I do?’” Also discuss the frequency of the activity, when you will fit it into your schedule, and if there are any special considerations you should keep in mind. Most importantly, you must adopt the belief that your health is inextricably linked to your level of physical activity.
Working out isn’t something you do just to look better in your bikini. The body loves to be strong; that’s its preferred state. Vigorous activity is the key to the kingdom, providing a long, healthy, happy life—the life you deserve.
YOUR PLAN OF ACTION
Now that you’re ready to embrace the awesome power you’ve been given to improve your health through exercise, let’s make a plan:
STEP 1 Make (and keep) an appointment with your doctor. This visit is a chance for you and your doctor to conduct an honest assessment of your current physical health as it relates to exercise. “It’s important to tailor physical activity to what your current medical needs are and what your current physical abilities are,” says Dr. de Groot.?Bring a list of any questions you may have and be prepared to take notes. This is your opportunity to get specific –
STEP 2 Identify the types of aerobic activity that you enjoy. Many studies use walking as the activity of choice, but as long as you’re increasing your heart rate and breaking a sweat, you’re doing it right. Spinning, Zumba, or the craziness that is Orangetheory Fitness are all great choices. The key is to find an activity—or a variety of activities—that you enjoy, making it more likely that you will stick to your plan.
STEP 3 Identify your support system. Know who you can count on to push you when you need to be pushed, be it a friend or a personal trainer. Educate yourself about the plentiful online resources available, such as the American College of Sports Medicine’s “Exercise Is Medicine” website (exerciseismedicine. org). There, you’ll find tips on getting started, a link to help you find the right medical or fitness professional, and even a letter to your health-care provider encouraging him or her to employ exercise as the incredible form of treatment that it is.
STEP 4 Schedule your physical activity. Make it the same as any other appointment or meeting that you wouldn’t miss. In fact, make it more important and schedule the rest of your busy life around your exercise time. This will help you integrate fitness into your daily routine so that it no longer feels like a luxury or a chore. It is your responsibility. Because the bottom line, as Dr. Metzl puts it, is simple: “There is no more powerful drug across the entire spectrum of the human body— starting with the brain and going down every body system—than exercise.”