Post No.: 0082
Time and time again, longitudinal (following the same study participants over time) and cross-sectional (taking a snapshot of the population at a particular time) scientific studies have shown that regular physical activity allied with a varied, balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, nutrients and fibre, are key to maximising the chances of warding off many preventable diseases and for living a high overall quality of life. Woof!
Even diseases that increase in likelihood with age (e.g. stroke, heart disease, diabetes and dementia-related diseases) can be dramatically reduced in their risk of occurrence or delayed through regular physical exercise and a healthy diet. Exercise and healthful foods should therefore be prescribed as medicine far more than pills!
Improving a patient’s diet and physical activity levels, as well as their social relationship factors, is in general the best way to improve the health of a person – much better than pills or falling for ‘quick-fix’ fallacies found on much of the web and media. Making sure these three areas are well attended to – one will likely sleep better as a result too, and one’s mood will also improve i.e. there are beneficial side-effects too, unlike pills/drugs, which all carry with them potential undesirable side-effects to some degree or another. (Drugs are not a necessity for a healthy person to stay healthy. All drugs potentially cause harmful side-effects but are prescribed as medicine when it is deemed that the chances of the benefits for an individual overall outweigh the risks of the costs to them e.g. a small risk of diarrhoea or constipation is considered better than having a chronically high blood pressure.)
Quick fixes like carefully-monitored, nutritionally-balanced crash diets are possible, but are extremely difficult to sustain for the long-term. If you can do it and can level off your lifestyle to something that is healthy and sustainable for the long-term rather than rebound to how you were living before, or worse – then that’s great! It’s better than remaining overweight, with the increased risks of various diseases such as cancer and sleep apnoea (when people temporarily stop breathing whilst sleeping) that being overweight brings. But most people struggle with crash diets, hence they end up yoyo dieting, feeling terrible and getting nowhere, or even end up worse in the long-term than how they begun them.
A medicine is basically something that makes you better or prevents you from getting ill in the first place, so exercise/physical activity is essentially medicine – the cure or treatment for many health problems, and it would cost a national health service nothing or relatively little if people just did it for intrinsic reasons too! So it’s amazing that not every general practitioner or primary care physician asks how much their clients are exercising whenever they see them (and assessing their frequency, intensity, timing and type of physical activities they do (FITT)).
It’s important to prescribe supported exercise programmes though i.e. provide support in achieving higher activity levels, not just merely telling people to exercise more, otherwise patients will likely not carry them through.
Broadly, if you have a physical health problem that isn’t to do with genetics or environmental pollutants or microbes – it’ll likely be down to either your fuzzy diet, physical activity levels, your social interactions, sleep and how often and what you do to relax and wind down, or a combination of the above.
So in summary – a good diet, regular physical activity, better social relationship factors, a better sleep hygiene and routine, and regular quality moments to relax, should be considered as forms of medicine, rather than defaulting to pills or surgery. There are far fewer negative side-effects too and they may even come with some positive ones (e.g. better concentration levels at work, a better mood and libido).
Furrywisepuppy says that if you are a client or patient, please don’t always ask for or expect pills as the solution whenever you go and see your GP or PCP. And we must also watch out for medical conflicts of interest too i.e. if doctors are incentivised to push for prescribing certain pills or surgeries simply because they’ll receive a higher remuneration whenever they do. In these situations, the interests of the doctor and the client are not perfectly aligned because it might be in the client’s best interest to be prescribed another medicine such as an exercise programme or more healthful diet instead of a sleeping pill or gastric bypass surgery.