Exercise as Prevention


People on bicycles

As Congress wrestles with complex, contentious issues of health care reform, I’d like to propose a step anyone can take to improve health and likely cut health care costs. This isn’t a legislative bombshell—I’ll leave that for the politicians. And it isn’t a new idea, though research keeps adding to the body of supporting evidence. Let me help you make the case for physical activity.


It’s not about exercising for weight loss, though most people know there’s a connection. Simply put, I’m advocating physical activity for health. Exercise repeatedly has been shown to help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, overweight and obesity, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, hypertension, depression and anxiety, and even some forms of cancer. Surely, if there were a pill with all these benefits (along with some very pleasant side effects), everybody would ask to have it prescribed.


Truly, exercise IS medicine, and it’s readily available to everyone. Very little is required to get started: a pair of walking shoes, or maybe a jump-rope. Playing with your children is free of charge. (I highly recommend it, and I don’t even know your kids.) People of any physical condition can become more active and start feeling better. No prescription is needed, though more and more physicians are calling for specific doses of exercise for their patients.


On the job and active

Employers, squeezed ‘til it hurts by soaring costs, have found that it pays to encourage employees to be physically active. Published reports on workplace wellness programs show that cost savings for every dollar invested range from $2.90 (Prudential Insurance) to $5.96 (Bank of America). DuPont reported a 14-percent decline in absent days among blue-collar workers. Pacific Bell’s FitWorks program saved $2 million and $4.7 million in short-term disability costs in just one year.


Workplace wellness programs bring other benefits, too. Fit Swedish workers committed 27 percent fewer errors on tasks involving concentration and short-term memory, and a Canadian program found that 47 percent of employee wellness program participants felt more alert, had better rapport with co-workers, and generally enjoyed their work more.


Bottom line

Sure, it’s great to save those dollars—particularly nowadays—but the total benefits are incalculable. What price can you put on feeling better, living longer, or avoiding a debilitating illness? Think about ramping up your level of physical activity, and bring someone along with you. If you need help getting started, you’ll find plenty of resources on the Exercise is Medicine website.


It may take Congress a while yet to figure out health care reform. Meanwhile, I vote for healthy lifestyles as prevention. All in favor? Please share your organization’s perspectives on exercise as medicine.


What is your organization’s perspective and involvement in the topic of exercise as prevention?