Exercise is as effective as prescription drugs for most cardio-metabolic diseases

Date: 24-04-2015

NIIM’s Physiologist and Nutritionist practitioner Dr Ian Gillam has published ‘Exercise is as effective as prescription drugs for most cardio-metabolic diseases: So why do medical practitioners not prescribe it?’ in Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal. 4 (1) March 2015.


So why don’t medical practitioners prescribe it?

– Written by Ian Gillam, Australia

Exercise elicits a wide range of health benefits, but can also be designed to produce specific clinical outcomes that improve the health and well-being of individuals with chronic disease1. In an editorial in the Canadian Family Physician, Pimlott2 described the ‘exercise pill’ as a miracle drug that has the ability to increase the capacity of almost every organ system. The wide-ranging actions of exercise cannot be matched by any prescription drug; a product designed with specific indications. As a result, multiple medications are required for patients with numerous chronic conditions. An additional benefit of exercise is that it has very few contraindications or adverse effects and there is increasing evidence that the more of the exercise pill you take, the healthier you will be.

Regular exercise has been shown to be as effective as most medically prescribed drugs in reducing the death rate from the major cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke as well as the prevention of diabetes3. This study concluded that “exercise interventions should therefore be considered as a viable alternative to or alongside drug therapy” and recommended that “the ‘exercise pill’ should be prescribed as a preventative strategy to reduce morbidity and mortality” from the major cardio-metabolic diseases.

If the results of that study could be replicated and perhaps extended to include the other major chronic diseases such as cancer, mental illness and degenerative musculoskeletal conditions, the implications would be profound. Similar findings would challenge and potentially change the priorities within current medical practice, such that exercise would become a primary treatment for the management of chronic disease. Could drugs be considered as an adjunct therapy to exercise? This four-part article develops the evidence base for exercise as a primary treatment for chronic disease management, questions the purpose of recent research on the development of a ‘pseudo-exercise pill’, examines some important adverse interactions between exercise and drug therapy and finally discusses why many medical professionals often fail to recommend exercise as integral part of every medical consultation. In Australia, the services provided by accredited exercise physiologists have now been recognised for rebates from the national Medicare system and as experts in prescription of exercise for individuals with chronic conditions. There is now increasing pressure in a number of countries to provide similar recognition for the allied health services provided by the ‘clinical exercise physiologist’ (or equivalent) and this paper argues that this is important in a contemporary health care system.

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Read the rest of the article at Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal

To find out more about Ian visit Ian Gillam’s practitioner profile or contact the NIIM Clinic on
(03) 9804 0646