Prescribing Physical Activity: A Call to Action

January 25, 2016
Prescribing Physical Activity: A Call to Action

The health benefits of regular physical activity are well documented and hard to overstate, but too often they are left out of the doctor–patient conversation. In December 2015, JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, published the Viewpoint “Making Physical Activity Counseling a Priority in Clinical Practice: The Time for Action Is Now.” In it, the authors issue a call to action advocating the use of physical activity prescriptions and treating a patient’s level of activity as a vital sign.

In a related commentary at, JoAnn Manson, MD of Harvard Medical School and co-author of the article stated, “A prescription for increased physical activity… could be one of the most important prescriptions that a patient receives.”

This is a topic of great interest to Andrew Pipe, MD, Chief of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the Ottawa Heart Institute, one that he is passionate about and has spoken on publicly. (See “Don’t Fear the Exercise Prescription” for coverage of his talk on this subject at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in 2013.)

“I’m very pleased to see this call to action in JAMA,” said Dr. Pipe. “It puts a spotlight on something we have known for a very long time: that regular physical activity is one of the most fundamental elements of good health and a powerful way to forestall the development of preventable disease.” The benefits apply not just to heart disease, but to a broad range of diseases and chronic conditions that include diabetes, cancer, stroke, dementia and many others.

Andrew Pipe, MD

Dr. Pipe is a well known advocate for health promotion and smoking cessation and is active in sports medicine with Canadian national teams.

“We have to be clear, though, that participating in physical activity does not mean people need to become athletes. It doesn’t mean that they need expensive equipment or access to special programs or facilities,” he explained. “It can be as simple as regularly walking most days of the week at a level that lets you still carry on a conversation.”

“I like to talk about the three Fs: fun, feasibility and forever,” said Dr. Pipe. “What kind of activity do you like to do the most, and how can you easily make it a part of your daily routine? If you can satisfy both of those questions, then it’s much more likely you will continue to be active for the rest of your life.”

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