What do you think about when you think of modern medicine? Based on how medicine is promoted in our culture, I think medicine almost always involves medications possibly some sort of surgery, multiple medications and definitely questions about insurance.
For many, but not all, exercise does not receive a brief notion of existence in the field of medicine. Perhaps it should. One of the main reasons for bringing forth this idea is because the current system does not appear to be working and one of the major things missing in many peoples lives is physical activity.
A few years ago, Time magazine published an article citing that the number of Americans taking anti-depressants to treat depression rose 400% from 1988 to 2008. That number would likely be higher had the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Something more astounding than the large number of Americans who are depressed is The Atlantic’s article that exercise is the best medicine to treat depression. Many facts are exposed in this article but one that I found most outstanding was that one study showed 30 min of aerobic activity showed to be as effective as Zoloft (a common anti-depressant medication) in the treatment of depression. Not only did the aerobic activity prove to be effective, it also further limited relapses in symptoms in comparison to medications. One may not consider this to be very impactful news until you consider that anti-depressant medications make up one-third of all prescription drugs in America. Imagine the economic impact of replacing one-third of our prescription drug market with aerobic activity. This is pure speculation but imagine the impact aerobic exercise could have on recreational drugs. Many people resort to drug use due to depression. Imagine the new public service announcements: “don’t do drugs, Walk”!
Why is it that physicians are so quick to prescribe a medication rather than an exercise plan? One can speculate various reasons why but some of the facts include lack of knowledge of exercise and lack of time to develop a plan. Many physicians today work under extremely stressful conditions w/heavy patient case loads and minimal time. Physicians are also heavily educated about medications while only being minimally educated about exercise. A 2014 article from the Washington Post cites polls that show less than 25% of physicians feel they have sufficient training to offer diet and physical activity advice. Physical education in medical school currently averages 19.6 hours nationally. The National Academy of Sciences recommends at least 25-30 hours throughout medical school.
There are some industry experts when it comes to exercise. Experts include some doctors such as Dr. Jordan Metzl M.D. of New York City who recently wrote a book titled the Exercise Cure. Another group of experts include physical therapists who’s 7 year education includes not only all sciences and anatomy but also various courses on human kinetics and physiology. Currently, nearly all Physical Therapy schools in American provide doctorate level education which requires all physical therapists to be experts in treating patient’s musculoskeletal issues. Physical therapists can also be considered experts in performing a physical screen of someone interested in beginning an exercise routine but are fearful of potential injuries.
The bottom line is that our current medical system is broken and in need of therapy to return to full health. Expect more posts on the topic of health care in the near future. For now, consider consulting a physical therapist for any musculoskeletal ache or weakness that you may be experiencing. Don’t be so quick to discredit physical therapy as a valuable contributor to the medical system.