Should doctors treat lack of exercise as a medical condition? Mayo expert says 'yes'

August 13, 2012, Mayo Clinic

A sedentary lifestyle is a common cause of obesity, and excessive body weight and fat in turn are considered catalysts for diabetes, high blood pressure, joint damage and other serious health problems. But what if lack of exercise itself were treated as a medical condition? Mayo Clinic physiologist Michael Joyner, M.D., argues that it should be. His commentary is published this month in The Journal of Physiology.

affects the health not only of many , but also people of normal weight, such as workers with desk jobs, patients immobilized for long periods after injuries or surgery, and women on extended bed rest during pregnancies, among others, Dr. Joyner says. Prolonged lack of exercise can cause the body to become deconditioned, with wide-ranging structural and : the heart rate may rise excessively during physical activity, bones and muscles atrophy, wane, and decline.

When deconditioned people try to exercise, they may tire quickly and experience dizziness or other discomfort, then give up trying to exercise and find the problem gets worse rather than better.

"I would argue that physical inactivity is the root cause of many of the common problems that we have," Dr. Joyner says. "If we were to medicalize it, we could then develop a way, just like we've done for addiction, cigarettes and other things, to give people treatments, and lifelong treatments, that focus on behavioral modifications and physical activity. And then we can take public health measures, like we did for smoking, drunken driving and other things, to limit physical inactivity and promote physical activity."

Several are associated with poor capacity to exercise, including fibromyalgia, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, better known as POTS, a syndrome marked by an excessive heart rate and flu-like symptoms when standing or a given level of exercise. Too often, medication rather than progressive exercise is prescribed, Dr. Joyner says.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers found that three months of exercise training can reverse or improve many POTS symptoms, Dr. Joyner notes. That study offers hope for such patients and shows that physicians should consider prescribing carefully monitored exercise before medication, he says.

If physical inactivity were treated as a medical condition itself rather than simply a cause or byproduct of other medical conditions, physicians may become more aware of the value of prescribing supported exercise, and more formal rehabilitation programs that include cognitive and behavioral therapy would develop, Dr. Joyner says.

For those who have been sedentary and are trying to get into exercise, Dr. Joyner advises doing it slowly and progressively.

"You just don't jump right back into it and try to train for a marathon," he says. "Start off with achievable goals and do it in small bites."

There's no need to join a gym or get a personal trainer: build as much activity as possible into daily life. Even walking just 10 minutes three times a day can go a long way toward working up to the 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity the typical adult needs, Dr. Joyner says.

Explore further: Physical inactivity kills 5 million a year: report

Related Stories

Physical inactivity kills 5 million a year: report

July 18, 2012
A third of the world's adults are physically inactive, and the couch potato lifestyle kills about five million people every year, experts said in the medical journal The Lancet on Wednesday.

Exercise training program improves outcomes in 'Grinch Syndrome' patients

June 20, 2011
An exercise training program worked better than a commonly used beta blocker, significantly improving — even curing — patients with a debilitating heart syndrome, according to research published in Hypertension: ...

Even with regular exercise, people with inactive lifestyles more at risk for chronic diseases

August 2, 2011
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of Americans have inactive lifestyles (they take fewer than 5,000 steps a day) and 75 percent do not meet the weekly exercise recommendations (150 minutes ...

Some exercise is better than none; more is better to reduce heart disease risk

August 1, 2011
Even small amounts of physical activity will help reduce heart disease risk, and the benefit increases as the amount of activity increases, according to a quantitative review reported in Circulation, journal of the American ...

Study: Women not getting enough exercise; at risk of developing metabolic syndrome

April 10, 2012
A national study shows that women are less likely than men to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, resulting in greater odds of developing metabolic syndrome – a risky and increasingly prevalent condition related ...

Exercise does not improve lipoprotein levels in obese patients with fatty liver disease

May 24, 2012
New research found that moderate exercise does not improve lipoprotein concentrations in obese patients with non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Results published in the June issue of Hepatology, a journal of the American ...

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.