This year Canadian adults received a ‘D’ in overall physical activity! The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that physical inactivity is one of the 10 leading causes of death in developed countries and result in nearly two million preventable deaths worldwide each year. The benefits of physical activity are various, some include decrease risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, some cancers, improved mental health and reduction in mortality. There are also positive economic benefits of physical activity shown by cost-benefit ratios. Even more, a sedentary lifestyle has been shown to be a greater factor in developing a cardiovascular disease than smoking, hypertension and high cholesterol; yet 85% of Canadians are still not meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week.
Physical activity and exercise promotion are not a new concept, though little progress has been made over the years. The necessary research studies have been done, we know the benefits; so why has there not been more of a progression as far as other public health concerns such as smoking, diet and alcohol? I believe to make significant strides we will need more buy-in from our primary care physicians and other health care professionals. Studies have shown that when exercise is prescribed to treat a patient it can be just as good as medication. This is commonly seen after heart attacks or heart surgeries; patients who exercise regularly increase their survival rates between 25-50 percent. In diabetes, exercise can improve blood sugar control by 10 percent. Though this is fantastic, it is still a very reactive approach.
In the United States, it is promoted that primary health care physicians are encouraged to inquire about physical activity just as they would measure blood pressure routinely, followed by a clinical consultation and appropriate questioning to lead to any poor habits that may be present (e.g. sedentary behaviour). Exercise Is Medicine Canada has been on a similar track; their mission is to provide national leadership in promoting physical activity to improve the health of Canadians. They have worked with many physicians to create an exercise prescription and referral tool in the form of a prescription pad to make it easier and more accessible to prescribe exercise along with or in lieu of medication. Their goal is to help bridge the gap between health care and exercise professionals to prevent and treat chronic disease.
If we want to change the trajectory of our nation’s health, our health care system and our physical activity report cards we will need to adopt a proactive, rather than reactive, approach. We will need to better educate our current and future doctors to create buy-in. The future of health care should involve a multidisciplinary team approach catering to behaviour change and lifestyle modifications. These teams could consist of physicians, dietitians, clinical exercise physiologists and kinesiologists who work together with the patient to help address and/or prevent these preventable chronic conditions that have flooded our current healthcare system.