Doctor’s Orders: Take 150 Minutes / Weekly How Exercise Prescriptions Can Help our Health Crisis

Doctor’s Orders: Take 150 Minutes / Weekly How Exercise Prescriptions Can Help our Health Crisis
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

You go to the doctor for your annual check-up and they take your blood pressure, order tests, and then before you walk out the door ask you two fundamental questions:


How many days per week are you active? 

How many minutes are in the moderate or vigorous zone?


This two-minute check in – called the Exercise Vital Sign – could change the nature of  health care. “We have a healthcare crisis, and the ability to step up and support physicians,” says Sara Hodson, President of Fitness Industry Council of Canada, a clinical exercise physiologist and CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic, a medical fitness franchise. “We want to be a resource for physicians, and to save them time.”


Exercise prescriptions are not new, but have gained momentum in the last few years. 


Canada’s Prescription to Get Active Program, which started as a grassroots effort in 2011 in one small Alberta town as an initiative to get the community more physically active,  has has expanded across Alberta, and into British Columbia and Ontario, with more than 4000 physicians signed up, and more than 165 fitness facilities providing 30 days of fitness for free. 


The program is simple: A physician or healthcare provider identifies a patient – or the patient approaches the physician – who is below the Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. The physician writes a prescription for the patient, who then either begins moving on their own or in their community, or can take the prescription to a participating facility. The Fitness Industry Council of Canada member facilities are partners in this program, providing 30 days of fitness to new members with an exercise prescription. 


According to Prescription to Get Active, 73% of program participants become more physically active with an exercise prescription. This research is supported globally. A qualitative study  of the Swedish Model Physical Activity on Prescription (PAP) found that tailored physical activity on prescription improved both motivation and participation in physical activity. 


Sara Hodson says the key for Fitness Industry Council and for the Prescription to Get Active program is to continue to build momentum and partnerships with key players such as ParticiPACTION and other Canadian organizations promoting physical activity not simply as a “good for you” but a “must have” – and that small changes can yield big results. 


According to the World Health Organization, inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide and a modifiable risk factor for chronic diseases, but 80% of Canadians still do not meet physical activity guidelines. A systematic review from the University of British Columbia recognized the barriers that clinicians face talking to their patients about the Exercise Vital Sign, and how clinicians can talk to their patients to improve adherence to physical activity and encourage even small starts – noting that talking to patients about physical activity is a good start, and prescribing it is even better. 


“If you ask any Canadian physician if exercise is a good idea for their patients “99 percent will agree,” says Hodson. “Exercise prescriptions can help Canadians overcome barriers to physical activity. This needs to be a joint effort.”

Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) is the not-for profit trade association that represents the voice of fitness facility operators across Canada. Representing more than 6,000 facilities with more than six-million members nationwide, FIC pursues a legislative agenda in the hope of bettering the fitness industry for both consumers and operators. FIC aims to work with both industry and government to improve the health and physical activity levels of Canadians.

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