Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prescribing exercise

from the American Trails Organization
 As most patients know, doctors are slowly (and often reluctantly) moving over to the mandated electronic medical record systems.   Being one of the reluctant ones, I must confess that the great advantage of the EMR is the ability to call in and track prescriptions for patients.  I know for instance if a patient is filling a prescription and I can be sure that the prescription is legible and actually received by the correct pharmacy.

So what to do with all those pre-printed prescription pads?

I recently discovered that I can write prescriptions for exercise and patients take the recommendation more seriously.  After all, I explain, exercise will often get you healthy as much as an antibiotic or a diet.  And we know that it prevents all kinds of diseases and ailments including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.

For an overweight person who is not exercising I now recommend my own version of "interval training" which according to the Mayo Clinic simply means this:

It's not as complicated as you might think. Interval training is simply alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.

Take walking. If you're in good shape, you might incorporate short bursts of jogging into your regular brisk walks. If you're less fit, you might alternate leisurely walking with periods of faster walking. For example, if you're walking outdoors, you could walk faster between certain mailboxes, trees or other landmarks.

I will start with a simple prescription for twenty minutes of walking three times a week.  I suggest making the 10-15 minute period in the workout very fast paced or up a hill or set of stairs.  How do you know if you are working intensely enough? Simple.  Push yourself for those five minutes until you are out of breath and cannot carry on a conversation with an exercise partner.  Then spend the last five minutes cooling down.

  • increased aerobic capacity
  • mental health benefits
  • increased ability to keep up
  • urge to exercise sets in (after 2-3 weeks)
  • possible weight loss
  • improved tone
One exercise I love to recommend is that folks take their bikes on the Rails to Trails paths.   These are restored railbeds all over the country, including several miles of them in Westchester County where the grade is rarely over 5 degrees and there are seldom cross streets.  It is possible to do interval training at a rapid pace just by going faster without the fear of traffic.   One of my favorite trails crosses the Croton Reservoir.   Out West, the American Parks association is promoting Park Prescriptions, the same idea of exercising but they are marrying this salutary habit to national parks where the trails can be fantastic and fun.
Happy Fourth of July and Happy Trails!

1 comment:

  1. Pushing yourself further every exercise session improves your stamina and strength. It is important make variations of your exercise or continuously challenge your muscles so your body can avoid plateaus.