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Exercise is Medicine

Exercise is Medicine

Even though we live in the most beautiful region that beckons us to get outside and exercise, physical inactivity has been the biggest health problem of the 21st century. The costs of physical inactivity have increased substantially over the last decade; with recent studies noting a week of physical inactivity has similar health costs to smoking a pack of cigarettes a week. There has been, and needs to be, a paradigm shift in the medical world to recognise that physical activity is a remarkable medical therapy.

Conditions that are precipitated by physical inactivity and result in high health care costs (said to be $1 trillion in USA) include cardiovascular disease (strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks) insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, osteoporosis (reduced bone density), back pain, gall stone disease, and decreased mental well-being.  It is now proven that low fitness and sedentary behaviour kills more in the western world than ‘smokadiabesity’ – smoking, diabetes and obesity combined.

At a society level we have assisted in transitioning physical activity out of the modern world, making sedentary behaviours an easier option - e.g. driving to work rather than biking or walking.

“Physical activity was not a societal burden when our survival depended on it”  

So it takes a concerted effort to address this. The Queenstown region has addressed this – bike trails connecting suburbs, free well-maintained walking paths, parks with outdoor gyms; all are so beneficial to society if they are used.

Whatever the medical condition you suffer there is a likelihood physical activity will help to some degree.  Managing certain health conditions may need medication as well; but decades of research have shown that exercise is as effective as prescription medication in the management of several chronic diseases.

For example, in type II diabetes just one session of aerobic activity improves blood glucose control and insulin action up to 24 hours longer.  In asthmatics, being active reduces severity and frequency of asthma attacks, reduces hospitalisations and increases productivity and overall well-being. Those who are physically active are less likely to be depressed, with exercise also being an alternative treatment to antidepressant medication in some.

Sports and Exercise Physicians are dedicated to keeping people active by preventing and treating musculoskeletal conditions in those who want to be active, and prescribing therapeutic exercise in those who have medical conditions.

We base our recommendations off the global recommendations on physical activity for health as below. These are irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or income level.

  1. Children and young people – physical activity includes play, games, sports, transportation, chores, PE, formal exercise. They should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity daily, with amounts of activity greater than this providing additional health benefits.
  2. Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity (can talk but not sing) aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. For additional health benefits closer to 300 minutes is advised and muscle strengthening activities should be done involving major muscles groups 2 days a week.
  3. For adults 65 years old and above 150 mins of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity is also advised, in combination with muscle strengthening, balance exercises and should be as physically able as their conditions allow.

So, the upshot of this is any increase in activity improves health regardless of baseline fitness, and regardless of body weight. Motivation to move can be difficult during the cold, darker winter months in Queenstown, but it’s a fabulous time to wrap up warm and get biking or walking or to your local heated gym and not lose the excellent exercise habits so many patients have told me they have implemented during our lockdown. Exercise needs to be fun; otherwise, it is harder to stick to, so find your ‘thing’ and do lots of it.

See you out there.

Dr Sarah Beable

To make an appointment with Sarah

Ph: +64 3 662 9400

Axis Sports Medicine - Queenstown is run by Dr Sarah Beable, a locally based Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician, she is one of the New Zealand Olympic team doctors and also works with the New Zealand Snow Sports team.  Sarah is a keen athlete herself and she has excellent knowledge of the demands of certain outdoor pursuits and physical occupations specialising in the diagnosis, and management tailored to your goal.