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Physical Activity

An Essential Strategy for Patient Health

Physical INactivity is one of the most important public health problems of the 21st century. Physical inactivity can result in similar health consequences to the established risk factors of smoking and obesity and is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cancer.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report summarizes the strong evidence that physical inactivity shortens life expectancy and increases the risk of many adverse health conditions. Among its many benefits, regular physical activity:

  • Lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type II diabetes and excessive weight gain;
  • Prevents several types of cancer (breast, colon, bladder, endometrium esophagus, kidney, lung and stomach);
  • In those who already have chronic disease, decreases the risk of developing a new chronic condition and reduces the risk of progression of their current condition;
  • Reduces the risk of clinical depression and depressive symptoms, improves sleep quantity and quality, reduces anxiety symptoms, and lowers the risk of dementia;
  • Improves health regardless of body weight or the amount of weight lost; 
  • Delays the effects of aging, reduces falls, and improves functional capacity and quality of life.

The largest health benefits occur when inactive people become moderately active. Even if an individual cannot meet the recommendations in this prescription, performing any level of activity is beneficial. More sedentary time is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular incidence and mortality, so encourage your patients to reduce screen time, use active forms of transportation (walking, biking), and break periods of extended sitting with short bouts of physical activity, or even standing.

Ideally, physical activity programs include a variety of exercises that include muscle strengthening, aerobic activity, flexibility training, and neuromotor fitness (i.e., balance). If a patient is new to exercise, it might be best to focus on a simple aerobic activity such as walking. Refer your patients to programs in their local community or appropriately credentialed exercise professionals to help them get started.

A good mantra for beginning exercisers is: “Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.”


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Support for the Exercise is Medicine® Initiative is provided by:

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