On the cusp of an exercise revolution: Wells

We’re on the cusp of a revolution where exercise is viewed as a medicine but to move forward medical schools need to start incorporating exercise physiology into their training programs, says Greg Wells a leading exercise physiologist from the University of Toronto.

The whole area of exercise medicine is taking off, largely because of the discovery that exercise is as powerful or more powerful than most medications for the treatment of chronic illness, without side effects, Greg Wells a keynote speaker at ARA15 tells the limbic. 

“I believe one of the revolutions that needs to happen in medicine is the incorporation of exercise as a medicine, and nutrition as medicine, and do that in as many chronic illnesses as we can…. physicians should be able to prescribe exercise not just drugs.”

“I’m not anti-pharmacology by any stretch of the imagination, I believe [exercise]  needs to be part of the broad treatment regimen for each individual patient so that we can optimise health.”

It’s important that we don’t  just treat the disease itself but offer patients all of the benefits that exercise brings such as positive psychology, quality of life, and the ability to operate without pain, he says.

All in moderation 

There are many different options, as long as it’s moderate intensity and moderate duration, says Wells.

“It’s really important for us to consider that exercise actually decreases inflammation which is a huge aspect of rheumatology” he says.

If we go to the extremes a J relationship happens and the immune system becomes depressed, he explains.

Examples of low impact exercise include Tai Chi, yoga, walking, swimming, light cycling.

“Just to get people moving is hugely important… because you can give people all the drugs they want but if they don’t move their disease is going to progress,” he says.

Three big barriers

In order for exercise to truly take off as a medicine Wells says  exercise physiology needs to be incorporated into all medical schools so that physicians have the foundation of exercise physiology as part of their education.

“The University of Toronto are piloting it this year. There’s  one course on exercise which is a great start, but that needs to be in every medical school all around the world.”

The second barrier is that doctors are generally not paid to prescribe exercise, but they are paid to prescribe drugs.

“Every time you write a script for a drug you get paid, you don’t get paid to prescribe exercise.. this has to fundamentally change at a government level”.

The third aspect is that we have to do the research to prove that exercise works as a medicine.

“We really have to get in there and look at each disease and see what exercise protocol is most effective.”

“We’re not there yet, we’re only really at the point where we realise disease causes exercise intolerance and impairs people’s ability to move.”




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