Can exercise be used as medicine?

Exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of several diseases. According to an article published in the journal of British Pharmacology.

"There is evidence for prescribing exercise in the primary and secondary prevention of pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases (CHD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, intermittent claudication); metabolic disorders (type 2 diabetes, dyslipaemia, obesity, insulin resistance); muscle, bone and joint diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis); cancer; and depression"

The concluding remarks from this paper, "Exercise is so beneficial for health that it should be considered as a drug. As for any other drug, dosing is very important. Otherwise, unfavourable side effects may occur."

We know that exercise decreases the risk of several diseases but how much exercise is needed?

According to the American Heart Association,

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150OR.
  • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activityAND.

For Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

  • An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week"

Most of us get less than the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day. Many of us have desk jobs where we sit for long periods of time. We then drive home sitting in a car and sit to eat dinner as well as watch television. Prolonged sitting increases our risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

There is a strong push for physicians to implement exercise into patient's treatment program.

In fact the American College of Sports Medicine has started a program. There website states, "Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) is a global health initiative managed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) that is focused on encouraging primary care physicians and other health care providers to include physical activity when designing treatment plans for patients and referring their patients to EIM Credentialed Exercise Programs and Exercise Professionals."

The World Health Organization has instituted global strategy initiatives to increase physical activity levels as it sees the detriments of physical inactivity on health.

It is estimated that people living 100 years ago exercised 5 times as much as we do now. Several communities are being built with physical activity in mind. Studies have shown that people who live in neighborhoods which have more sidewalks, bicycle lanes and trails get more exercise. These communities make it easy to walk to the grocery store and the town center for necessary errands. The goal is to see more strollers than cars and increase physical activity among the their residents.


Physical activity along with a healthy diet can help prevent several diseases and should be used to promote long term well being.


Vina J, Sanchis-Gomar F, Martinez-Bello V, Gomez-Cabrera M. Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2012;167(1):1-12. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.01970.x.

Do you think exercise is medicine?