The “wonder drug”?

What if there was a magical “wonder drug” that could improve your patient’s (and your) health in a number of ways? What if it treated a multitude of conditions including musculoskeletal diseases, hypertension, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and depression? What if it was free, easy to access, and didn’t require a prescription?

Would you make sure everyone knew about it? Would you discuss it openly with your patients?

Great news – it exists! However, it’s not a pill, powder, or injection. It’s simply… exercise.

A recent column by Aaron E. Carroll in The New York Times noted that the outcomes achieved with the recommended 150 minutes/week of moderate physical activity for health-related conditions can’t be claimed by any other single intervention. While it is not a “miracle cure” for all ailments, the authors of a editorial in the BMJ call it “the best buy for public health”; it has been linked to improved health in many areas including the ones mentioned above. Mr. Carroll also notes that “Moderate intensity is probably much less than you think”. A brisk walk, a leisurely bicycle ride, or even vacuuming floors will qualify.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of physical activity promotion, published in 2012, showed that provider advocacy and recommendation of activity in a primary care setting works. If you are not already doing so, why not add a question to your intake form about how much moderate physical activity your patients are getting? Make time to discuss the benefits of just 30 minutes a day of physical activity with your patients and offer suggestions for incorporating physical activity into daily routines.

Will it cure every disease? No. Can it have an beneficial impact on you and your patients? Yes, definitely. Why not try and recommend the “wonder drug” of moderate physical activity today?