Should physical exercise be prescribed?

Couple jogging
Andrew Renaut

How important is regular exercise for the body?

Exercise, when undertaken in conjunction with a healthy diet, is a critical factor for losing weight and maintaining your overall well-being. While it can be quite challenging for someone who is obese to transition from eating a tub of ice-cream each night to a fruit bowl, the physical and emotional benefits that follow exercise make it worth the effort. Whatever the excuse may be, exercising is far more than just getting fit or achieving that ‘physical body’. From making you happier to helping you decrease your cancer risk, regular physical activity is the key to living a healthy, balanced life. But one question still remains: should it be prescribed as a comprehensive program for patients?

What is an exercise prescription?

An Exercise Prescription can be referred to as a specific plan that involves various fitness-related activities (i.e. stretching, lifting, swimming). These are usually developed by a physiotherapist, fitness or rehabilitation specialist for a specific purpose, whether it is to treat a specific injury, disease or improve the overall health and well-being of the patient/client.  While patients may vary differently in their ability to sustain what they perceive as arduous activity, the goal of the prescription itself should be to successfully integrate exercise principles and behavioral techniques to motivate the patient to be compliant.

What are the benefits of regular physical exercise?

Exercise stimulates tissue alteration and adaptation resulting in an increase in muscle mass, strength and cardiovascular endurance. However, recovery from exercise is just as important as it allows such changes and adaptations to occur. As a result, many studies suggest that all people should contribute to a comprehensive physical activity program due to the following benefits:

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure (Myers, 2003).
  • Lowers blood pressure, improves lipid levels, improves insulin sensitivity, and lowers blood glucose levels (Higgins, 2016).
  • Keeps joints, ligaments and tendons flexible, making it easier to move around while at the same time lowering the risk of osteoporosis and injury (Ades, 1987).
  • Reduces the effects of aging, particularly the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis (Metsios et. al, 2008).
  • Helps maintain normal weight by increasing your metabolism (rate of burning calories) (Higgins et. al, 2016).
  • Increases energy and adipose distribution which fosters cardiovascular endurance (Fletcher et. al, 1996).
  • Contributes to overall mental well-being by reducing stress, anxiety and depression (Lobstein, 1983).
  • Specific exercise programs are usually prescribed to rehabilitate patients after major surgeries or musculoskeletal injuries.

How much physical exercise should be prescribed?

Physical activity should be specific to each person, but prescribed in a proper dose to achieve a desired effect. A prescription for exercise should specify the following:

  • Intensity (level of exertion).
  • Volume (amount of physical activity in a session).
  • Frequency (number of exercise sessions).
  • Progressive overload (whether to increase the amount in one or more of the above mentioned elements per workout or actual load).

Any prescribed exercise should be sufficient enough such that it helps the body achieve a higher state of function and does not cause any form of injury. In other words, more exercise or an intense workout does not necessarily mean it is better for you; yet too little physical activity can hinder your ability to achieve your desired outcomes. The main objective is ultimately to discover the most appropriate exercise amount for optimal benefit in reference to the patient’s health, fitness level and goals.