Doctors Prescribing Exercise: Physicians Favoring Gyms Over Pharmaceuticals, New Study Shows

Doctors are prescribing exercise over drugs more and more these days, an age-old remedy that is proving beneficial in areas where it is most needed, Yahoo News is reporting.

As anyone who watches TV on a regular basis can tell you, there are prescription drugs for just about everything, from depression to hypertension to erectile dysfunction, and everything in between. And those ads are always followed by the instruction to ask your doctor if that medicine is right for you.

doctors prescribing exercise

As it turns out, for many patients, there’s a much more effective medicine that treats not only the symptoms the patient is having, but the problem itself, and that medicine is exercise.

Dr. Edward Phillips of Boston says that exercise is a natural drug.

“[Exercise is] like taking a little bit of Prozac — an antidepressant — and a little bit of Ritalin, which is a stimulant.”

Dr. Phillips says that getting off the couch and moving around is what the body was designed to do, and what it needs to function in a healthy manner.

“Our bodies are meant to move. Integrating movement into our day allows the system to work optimally. Part of the system that needs to work is our brain, and includes sleep, mood, cognition, ability to concentrate.”

However, for many patients, a prescription for exercise isn’t necessarily easy to fill. This is especially true of people who live in poor, inner-city neighborhoods, which may not have many gyms within accessible distance of the people who need them the most. And even if there were gyms available, the cost may be prohibitive to someone with limited resources.

That’s where Boston’s Healthworks Community Fitness comes in. The community-based agency partnered with area healthcare providers to offer gyms to residents of poorer neighborhoods at a low cost.

One such gym is the Whittier Street Health Center. Located in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood — a neighborhood that can most charitably be described as “having seen better days” — the low-cost gym reaches out to neighborhood residents for the low cost of $10 per month. That works out to about $2.50 per week — less than the cost of a drink at Starbuck’s, or a burger at McDonald’s; a price that’s within range of Roxbury’s residents, especially when it comes to their health.

Roxbury resident Monisha Long says her doctor prescribed exercise to her after diagnosing her with hypertension and morbid obesity. Thanks to routine visits to the low-cost gym, she’s been able to get her health back on track.

“I lost well over 150 pounds, and I’ve been keeping it off for the past couple of years.”

Doctors prescribing exercise.

Lack of access to affordable gyms isn’t just a problem in inner cities, however. According to a 2012 report in the Nation’s Health, obesity — largely due to lack of exercise — is a growing problem in America’s rural areas, says Dr. Christie Befort.

“Access is often about travel time in a rural area, but it can also be that there’s no place to go — literal physical isolation. It’s tough to go to a gym if you live outside of a town without one.”

Dr. Michelle Johnson, some of whose patients use the Roxbury gym, says her patients are coming to realize that exercise can be a better way to tackle health problems than just taking pills.

“Exercise is not a new medicine. It’s really an old medicine. But you know, I think we’re now coming to the point of understanding how important it is.”

[Image via Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia]