A Good Prescription

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From left: Frederick Buckley Jr., M.D.; Barry Braun, Ph.D.; Stuart Chipkin, M.D. this month on Physician Focus.

If you could do something to make yourself feel better, lift your mood, and reduce your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, would you do it? It’s a yes or no question, but don’t be too quick to answer, because too many of us don’t do it.

It’s exercise.

It’s been called the closest thing to a “fountain of youth” by some, but findings from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control indicate that fewer than two in ten Americans get the recommended levels of exercise, more than a quarter of adults don’t give any time to exercising, and less than one-third of high-school students attend physical education classes.

Not very good, for something so good.

“We’re living in a society in which we are physically doing less and less,” says Stuart Chipkin, M.D., an endocrinologist with Valley Medical Group in Amherst and a research professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “We’re in an unfortunate ‘perfect storm” – with a diet high in calories and a lifestyle so much more sedentary than we’ve ever been, and those two things have conspired to make the weight problem we face in America and the world such a concern.”

Dr. Chipkin (photo, right) and his colleague, Barry Braun, Ph.D., (center) an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology, join program host Frederick Buckley Jr., M.D., (left) a general surgeon and Vice Chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Nutrition and Physical Activity, for Doctor’s Rx: Exercise, the December edition of Physician Focus, which examines the role of exercise in overall health and well being.

“We need to think of exercise as a prescription drug,” says Dr. Chipkin, “with the dosage based on the individual. The intensity - vigorous or moderate - and the frequency - how many times a week – will vary with the individual. Most of all, patients need to understand how important it is.”

Is there a difference between exercise and physical activity? And are the health benefits different? Dr. Braun makes the distinction. “Anything that involves expending energy – running, walking, mowing the lawn, or gardening – is physical activity. Exercise can be defined as the purposeful activity to improve health.” But both are good for you he says: “No matter how you do it, no matter how you slice it or break it up, the energy you expend regardless of what size the chunks are is going to be beneficial.”

Please join us for a discussion about exercise in the December episode of Physician Focus. For those who don’t exercise, it might just get you motivated. For those who do, it will be confirmation that what you’re doing is good for you. Just don’t spend too long sitting on the sofa after the show ends.