Don’t Exercise? Physical Inactivity Might Be A Medical Condition

You might not work out, but it’s not because you’re lazy, right? Right! According to at least one physiologist, anyway. Call it the “denial of personal responsibility” all you like, the lack of exercise is now a medical condition.

It’s called “deconditioning,” or in the words of NPR, “the decidedly unnatural state of being physically inactive.” Makes sense, we suppose. After all, inactivity is linked to heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, and, of course, obesity. Now, Michael Joyner, a physiologist at Mayo Clinic, is calling doctors and physicians to band together to fight deconditioning as the source of our nation’s health woes. If physical inactivity is treated like a condition and can be diagnosed, then it may help put a stop to one of the most common preventable causes of illness and death. In Joyner’s eyes, there is “one universally effective treatment for it — exercise training.”

In commentary published in this month’sJournal of Physiology, Joyner firmly and succinctly leads the charge against physical inactivity and deconditioning. “The entire medical research industrial complex is oriented towards inactivity,” he argues, pointing out that insurance companies will reimburse individuals for drugs meant to treat inactivity, but not actually useful things like gym memberships. “Physicians really need to start defining the physically active state as normal,” he says.

Joyner argues that roughly 30 percent of the responsibility in the fight against physical inactivity belongs to the medical community, even advising that “physicians need to interact with patients about being active, and they need to write prescriptions for exercise.”

I can already hear the groaning from Libertarians. “Oh, the Fed is going to start telling ME what to do with MY life, are they?”

But there might be a point there. We all have that friend (or two) who uses self-diagnosed ADD as an excuse for not paying attention. Would diagnosing physical inactivity, or deconditioning, just give people a reason to write it off and justify their leisurely lifestyles?

Still, it’s an interesting idea.

What do you think? Should doctors be able to write prescriptions requiring you to exercise? Should physical inactivity, the lack of exercise, qualify as a medical condition?