Should Doctors Prescribe Exercise?

What is the role of the family GP or doctor today? We know that exercise has many health benefits, ranging from improved heart health, lower levels of obesity, improved mental health and cognitive ability and general all round improved physical strength and stability. But when was the last time your doctor prescribed you some exercise?

Exercise prescription is not uncommon in some countries. In China doctors will often prescribe exercises to patients to help them recover from illness and improve their immune system.

Exercise is all too often overlooked here as a means to improve health.

Some people argue that if doctors prescribe exercise to patients it is just another extension of our nanny state. However, studies have shown that many people still do not understand that there is a link between inactivity and poor health in the same way that people are not aware of a link between being overweight and many health problems.


If these studies are accurate, then we are not living in a nanny state. Far from it in fact, we are living in a state where the government is not succeeding in passing on basic knowledge to its people. Education is the only way to reverse the obesity epidemic, and there are few people after school that can speak with authority direct to a person other than a doctor.

If doctors do not make a greater effort to prescribe exercise and diets also to patients then people only have tabloids and reality TV shows to learn from, and these are rarely the best source of information on health and fitness.

In the UK there are some exercise referral schemes, but these are only accessible to obese patients with a body mass index over 30. People who are overweight, or of a normal weight but extremely unfit and unhealthy, cannot apply for exercise referral. Also, the exercise referral scheme is not very well advertised. Most people are not aware that it exists and many doctors fail to mention it to patients.

Maybe it is time to petition the government to request that doctors should provide a more holistic approach to health, that is rather than just treating conditions with medicine, to start to encourage and educate patients to get fit and eat a healthy diet.

There are certainly many initiatives, such as the Change4Life program run by the British NHS but these are only ever just a suggestion, not a prescription.

Should people be pushed to do more to make themselves healthy? Do we rely on dangling a healthy carrot too much, rather then shoving with a healthy boot?

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