FITNESS is drug-free medicine
Regular exercise and improved levels of fitness are just as effective as medicines in helping with nearly all noncommunicable diseases treated today.
“These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even dementia. In fact fitness seems to be a stronger predictor of how long you will live than your weight,” said University of Otago associate professor Jim Cotter, a keynote speaker at the recent Public Health Association conference in Dunedin.
“We are really only scratching the surface in our understanding of how exercise works. Its effects are extremely complex, acting beneficially on just about all bodily systems and structures and we know exercise is most potent when it is relatively strenuous.
“The notion of exercise being an effective therapy in the prevention and treatment of several diseases is not new, but the evidence has mounted rapidly across the last half century, culminating in the explicit term “exercise is medicine” – as trademarked by the American College of Sports Medicine.
It need not have costs or significant barriers, like medicines often do, and the Government, it was suggested, should consider whether exercise should in fact be formalised into Pharmac policy.
“As our knowledge grows we should be able to prescribe suitable exercise as an alternative or adjunct approach for people who can’t or don’t gain these beneficial aspects by doing strenuous activity or regular manual work,” said the associate professor.
“It may even be possible to introduce stress in other ways – such as saunas – to provoke the same sort of physical reactions involved with exercise for people who are unable to be active.
“Strategies for incorporating these principles into people’s lives need to be considered by governments and town planners in conjunction with community groups and social and biological science researchers, because regulating the food environment and changing the way people eat is only part of the picture towards long-term health and wellbeing.”
He said Dunedin was a perfect example where much could be done with its active transport, hills, small geography, wonderful green space and proactive council.
Jim Cotter is an associate professor at the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Otago and an accredited exercise physiologist with the national professional body – Sport & Exercise Science New Zealand.