Some doctors are prescribing exercise regimens and healthy diets to patients with chronic health problems - and this approach is having some success, according to recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
In the Wall Street Journal, Laura Landro writes:
Doctors are working exercise counseling into office visits and calling exercise a "vital sign" to be measured when they take readings like pulse and blood pressure. Rather than just explain the dangers of inactivity, they suggest the right amount of exercise, and in some cases refer patients to certified trainers or physical therapists who can design regimens for different medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes that might limit certain activities.
As part of a program at Kaiser Permanente – called Exercise as a Vital Sign - nurses or medical assistants ask patients about their exercise habits, and enter the data in their electronic medical records, Landro explains. Doctors then use this information to determine which patients need to exercise more, and discuss which types of activities might be beneficial.
A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that between April 2010 and October 2011, the program was associated with small - but significant - amounts of weight loss in overweight patients, and improved blood sugar control for diabetes patients, she writes.
Instead of drugs or admonishments to lose weight, which typically fall on deaf ears, doctors provide families in the FVRx program with a "prescription" to eat fruits and vegetables. The families also are given nutritional education, recipes and, most important of all, so-called Health Bucks that are redeemable for produce at a local farmers’ market — at twice the amount that the families could purchase with food stamps alone.
This program has also been successful, Brody writes. At several New York area hospitals, about 1,200 young patients and their families met with their doctors to review their nutrition prescription, get weighed and measured, and discuss other steps toward a healthy diet.
An analysis of last year's results found that 97 percent of the children and 96 percent of their families ate more fruits and vegetables after joining the program. More than 90 percent of families shopped at farmers' markets weekly or more than two or three times a month, and 70 percent understood more about the health value of fruits and vegetables.
Most astonishing, perhaps, after just four months in the program 40 percent of participating children lowered their B.M.I.
Beyond these numbers, the anecdotal success stories are powerful.
In the Wall Street Journal, Landro tells the story of Paul Freberg, who had high blood pressure and high cholesterol and was at risk of developing diabetes. Freberg's doctor, she writes, gave him a choice: Go on medications, or lose weight, improve his diet, and start exercising.
Freberg made some serious changes: He started packing a lunch with fruits and vegetables every day, running before work, and walking on weekends with his wife, Landro writes. He now takes low doses of medication to control his blood pressure and cholesterol, and his weight has dropped from 243 to 205 pounds.
Making exercise seem like a vital sign is like reinforcing what we were told as kids to brush our teeth - if you don't do it at night before you go to bed, you feel something is wrong. Exercise is such an ingrained part of my life now that if I don't do it I feel guilty.
Has a doctor prescribed you food or exercise? If so, how well did you follow the prescription, and how effective was it? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.