Physical Inactivity: A medical condition treated by doctors. Exercise is amazing. Just about any form of activity that's purposeful will have a positive effect on your body in some way. For people living with excess weight or disease, exercise has the ability to reverse some conditions, most notably high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Inactivity is dangerous for all of us, not just overweight and obese populations. Pregnancies that require bed rest, 60+ hour work weeks, and of course, general laziness can leave our bodies in a lurch, deconditioned and at greater risk of injury or disease.
But what if your doctor were able to treat your inactivity as a medical condition, long before heart disease, high blood pressure or or diabetes affect you? Mayo Clinic physiologist, Michael Joyner, M.D., thinks that would be a good idea. And after reading his perspective in The Journal of Physiology, I'd welcome such a change in our future.
By Joyner's assessment, numerous conditions, including postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), could be minimized if deconditioning were medicalized. POTS is a condition marked by an excessively elevated heart rate and nausea upon standing, typically affecting young to middle age women. Essentially people affected by POTS are out of shape. When they move quickly from a seated to a standing position, their heart rates shoot through the roof and they get queasy. It's natural that patients with POTS would assume something much more dire is going on with their bodies. In fact, they just need to get moving a little more. According to Joyner's perspective, "Physical activity and lack of exercise - deconditioning - is one of the most common preventable causes of morbidity and mortality known for an impressive array of diseases."
Empowering the medical community with the ability to medicalize deconditioning would be a huge step in the direction of integrative medicine. Rather than waiting for a blood test to reveal that a patient should go on a cholesterol-lowering or high blood pressure medication after years on the "wait and see" approach, a prescription for an appropriate form of training would be written. Medical doctors have a tremendous amount of influence, and a formal prescription for activity could increase patient compliance.
It's no secret that the primary reason our society is so out of shape is because we choose to be this way. But it's also no secret that we've relied far too heavily on prescriptive medications to treat symptoms of conditions that would otherwise be significantly reduced if the medical community took the hard line by way of preventative measures - physical training. Prescribing exercises and doing exercise are indeed two very different things. But any form of behavior modification, individual or cultural, will take time.
The United States could very well be the most medicated country on the planet. We are also one of the most sedentary countries on the planet. There could be no better test market for this novel new medicine called exercise.
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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.