We know physical activity (PA) is such an effective intervention for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Why? Physical activity:

  • Makes it easier to control blood sugar, and controlled blood sugar means fewer long-term complications from diabetes
  • Helps insulin work better, so muscles can use more glucose for fuel
  • Helps muscles use glucose for fuel without insulin

Studies have shown that physical activity lowers type 2 diabetes risk by 58 percent, when combined with modest weight loss.

As a medical professional you know exercise can make a huge difference for your diabetic patients. You probably recommend physical activity to your patients all the time.

But do they do it? Do they actually increase their physical activity?

You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

In Western North Carolina, roughly 28 percent of adults reported not getting the recommended amount of daily exercise in 2013.

And in the entire state, 60 percent of diabetics reported not getting the recommended amount of daily aerobic activity, and 83 percent of diabetics reported not getting the recommended amount of strength training.

How do we get these folks to increase their physical activity?

…But You Can’t Make Him Drink (Right?)

The old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Wrong!

This is where you can chime in to say,

“Unless you salt the oats!”

As a primary care provider, you can “salt the oats” by writing a prescription for exercise.

Writing prescriptions for lifestyle changes isn’t a new practice, but it is an effective one. As John Whyte MD, MPH, wrote in a Huffington Post blog,

In many ways, we feel the prescription validates the concerns we had about our symptoms, and it also underscores the importance of treatment…writing a prescription sends an important message — “This is a serious problem, and you need to do something about it!”

Exercise prescriptions don’t just work for diabetes. They’re also written for management of depression, high blood pressure and heart disease, and more.

Do Exercise Prescriptions Really Work?

A study from 2009 had a group of patients who was given a prescription for exercise, and then a group who was just told to exercise. After six months, the prescription receivers had a 3.9% higher compliance rate than the control group.

In this article, Ann Yelmokas McDermott PhD, MS, LDN, who directs the Center for Obesity Prevention and Education, commented on the study, “Advice alone does not do it…it must be a customized and personalized prescription in order to get the best benefit.”

McDermott says exercise needs to be prescribed as thoroughly as a pill. McDermott says exercise needs to be prescribed as thoroughly as a pill.
Doctors “would never say [to a patient], ‘This medication is good, end of story.’ You have to give the details for it to be valued. Why is it good? What’s it going to do? How do I take it?” McDermott says.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you write exercise prescriptions for your patients? Alternatively, has your doctor written one for you? Did you follow it? Let us know in the comments.