home news Exercise is a miracle drug
Exercise is a miracle drug

KATHARINE CHILD | 06 September, 2013 01:03 The Times
Working out at the gym. File photo.

If there were a miracle drug that helped patients avoid heart disease, strokes and some cancers, would you prescribe it, doctors in America were asked.

The doctors said "yes". They were then asked why they did not prescribe exercise.

The Exercise is Medicine movement encourages doctors to write a script with the words: physical activity. It originated in the US and has reached South Africa.

Dr Louis Holtzhausen, head of the South African group and University of the Free State sports physician, said research has shown that moderate exercise of at least 150 minutes a week can reduce the chances of:

  • Heart disease by 50%;
  • Stroke by 30% to 40%;
  • Alzheimer's disease by 30-40%; and

Recurrence of breast cancer by more than 50%.

Holtzhausen said being unfit was more dangerous than being overweight.

"You can be fat and fit," he says. "Fatness and fitness are two separate issues."

Dr Candice Christie, head of the Department of human kinetics and ergonomics at Rhodes University, agreed.

"Lack of fitness is worse for your health than obesity," she said.

Christie said research by University of South Carolina's Professor Steven Blair showed that lack of physical activity was more dangerous for one's health than high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure.

Blair called inactivity the biggest killer of the 21st century - inactivity killed more people than smoking, diabetes and obesity combined.

Holtzhausen is creating a database of trained sports physicians who can prescribe appropriate types of exercise.

"More is better than less but anything is better than nothing."

Doctors prescribe medicine in "three tiers". Exercise for a healthy person is at least 150 minutes a week done in as little as 10-minute bouts. Those at risk of heart attacks or who are overweight need a customised plan after assessment.

People who are severely ill need to exercise in the presence of medical personnel.

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