According to scientists and medical experts, even though the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) anticipated much speculation while putting plans into effect, it still does not change one important thing they are sure of. Leaders of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) strongly believe physical activity and exercise to be the most powerful tool in helping aid the sick people in the U.S.There is widespread support in Congress for a plan to help prevent disease instead of helping people pay for treatment after they get sick, including promotion healthy lifestyles and physical activity.

Janet Walberg Rankin, Ph.D., ACSM president and an associate dean at Virginia Tech, quoted a US Department of Health and Human Services announcement that physical inactivity will have caused about 7 million premature deaths in the country just in this decade.

Healthy lifestyles, including exercise and physical activity, need to be part of the healthcare equation. Physical activity has been proven to help prevent over 40 chronic conditions and diseases, including diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Past president of ACSM, Robert Sallis, M.D., FACSM, stressed that having exercise in the health care equation is sound science, and an economic necessity.

Sallis also chairs the Exercise is Medicine global health care initiative that strives to make physical activity and exercise a part in helping prevent disease and treat medical conditions. One of their main goals is to show people that exercise is indeed medicine. The initiative hopes to make physical activity a concern in all health care visits, while leading to policy changes in both public and private settings for physical activity counseling and referrals in clinical settings.

According to the ACSM, 75% of America’s healthcare spending goes on treating chronic diseases. Getting patients general physically active does not only help improve treatment outcomes, but can also be a powerful preventive weapon.

Sallis said:

“If the benefits of exercise could be captured in pill form, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world.”

Walberg Rankin and Sallis claim that people of all ages and health status who can become physically active and are able to exercise, are going to gain and maintain better wellness. They believe this should be a main concern in any debate on health policy.

Business already know about this, they added – local and national governments around the world are starting to become aware that there is an enormous impact on the bottom line if people are kept healthy. Between $233 and $381 billion are spent dealing with preventable diseases which would not now be affecting people if they were physically active.

Exercise can suit every person’s pocket – from expensive tennis clubs to playing team sports in a local park or an empty plot of land. There are various types of physical activities, such as hiking, cycling, running, walking, swimming, etc. Staying healthy through exercise can be free – the important thing is to remain physically active. Health experts and health authorities need to promote the benefits of exercise more vigorously.

Rankin said:

“Beyond the avoidable cost in health care dollars, we need to look at the loss of worker productivity and the impact of non-communicable diseases on families and on individual quality of life. Research shows that physically active people have fewer hospital stays and physician visits.

Our nation-and every community, workplace and organization-must act on the growing evidence base supporting Exercise is Medicine and collectively shift focus from overspending to treat preventable diseases to keeping people healthy. That’s a proven prescription for individual health and America’s bottom line.”

Tai Chi, Cannon Beach
An elderly man performing Tai-Chi on the beach

Leaving car at home saves lives and money – the Barcelona Public Health Agency and the World Health Organization reported that leaving the car at home for short journeys and going on foot would save the lives of 79 women and 108 men annually in Catalonia, Spain. This would represent a savings of over 200 million Euros ($251 million dollars). (Link to article)

Exercise for diabetes patients – people with diabetes who do regular exercise enjoy significantly better health, have longer lifespans, and fewer complications than diabetes patients who don’t. Diabetes patients with LVH (left ventricle hypertrophy), in which the muscular walls of the heart’s main pumping chamber has thickened, have considerably better survival rates if they regularly do exercise, researchers from Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, George Washington University, found in a study. (Link to article)

Moderate exercise is best for long-term health – researchers from the Mayo Clinic in a study found that regular moderate exercise is much better for cardiovascular health, longevity and the prevention of many chronic conditions compared to extreme endurance exercise. They found that training and competing for very long distance bicycle rides, iron-man distance triathlons, or marathons can cause structural changes to occur in the heart, leading to myocardial injury. (Link to article)

Exercise can benefit people with mental illnesses and conditions – Psychologists at Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, USA, reported that regular exercise causes neurobiological changes to occur in the brain. It has specific effects on memory, depending on the individual’s age. The researchers identified a gene that appears to regulate to what extent exercise provides a potential benefit. They believe their findings may prove useful for using exercise as an intervention for mental illness. (Link to article)

Further reading: What is exercise? What are the benefits of exercise?

Written by Sarah Glynn