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EDITORIAL: Prime advice

Doctor’s advice – those words carry a lot of weight. A local physician is championing the idea of advising patients about the benefits of regular exercise.

Dr. Brad MacDougall, a family physician at the Westville Medical Clinic, would like to see health care professionals motivate their patients to be more active. He describes exercise generally as a better medication than what doctors can prescribe.

Dr. MacDougall, who is also an assistant professor in Dalhousie University’s Department of Medicine, is co-chairing an educational session today for health care providers on the topic. The other co-chair is Dr. Jonathon Fowles, professor at Acadia University and chair of Exercise Is Medicine National Advisory Council.

In an interview with The News, Dr. MacDougall said the thinking on this would be to assess a patient to find out their level of activity, then discussing the benefits of activity and, as with a prescription, writing out some specific exercise recommendations.

However it’s presented, this kind of information should come as no surprise to most people. Physical activity as an ingredient to better health has long been a topic in discussions and literature on the subject. But old habits die hard. If someone’s exercise regime or schedule of recreational activity petered out during middle age, getting started again might take some encouragement.

And the thing is, first steps dont need to be daunting. Moderate activity is better than no activity.

Doctors are in an advantageous position to tackle such a subject with their patients. On the other hand, its not hard to see how such an approach would require some special discussion among health professionals, since it might seem to some a delicate matter of delving into a patient’s personal life.

But if you look at this in context, 40 or 50 years ago, for similar reasoning, a doctor might have hesitated to suggest that a patient quit smoking. If obesity is a factor, one can imagine that could be a sensitive subject for a physician to broach with a patient. Things change, information about enhancing health improves and passing vital information along to patients is doing them a good service.

When it comes to regular exercise its not just athletes who understand that strengthening core muscles, for example, will help reduce strain on the spinal column and resultant back problems. Health experts have been telling us for years that people, including seniors, can greatly benefit from resistance exercises such as weight training – better muscle tone means less likelihood of breaking bones, less strain on joints.

And thats to say nothing of the positive effects of activity as simple as walking on cardiovascular health, improving blood pressure or preventing diabetes.

This is all part of the more wholesome philosophy in health care of promoting wellness as the first resort, in the hopes of avoiding or delaying illness.

We’re living longer these days, a trend in our population that’s often noted. On the face of it, that’s great news. But as most come to realize in the aging process, reaching some magic number is not how you win the prize. It’s more about maintaining quality of life as you age.

Making exercise and activity – both physical and mental – part of the routine throughout a lifetime is a key to better quality of life.

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