More doctors prescribe exercise rather than medications

More doctors are prescribing exercise to treat their patients' chronic health conditions rather than medications, according to an NBC Connecticut report.

Doctors are increasingly prescribing exercise and encouraging patients to think of physical activity as their new medication, the report said.

For example, at the Whittier Street Health Center in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, primary care physicians, internists and psychologists prescribe access to a local gym for $10 a month, according to the article. Center doctors say 70 percent of the patients there have chronic health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.

"Exercise is not a new medicine. It's really an old medicine. But you know, I think we're coming to the point of understanding how important it is," Michelle Johnson, M.D., a doctor at the clinic, told NBC Connecticut.

Low-cost access to an exercise facility is a key factor to ensure patients fill that exercise prescription. Some gyms are also getting into the act. Healthworks Community Fitness, a nonprofit gym in Dorchester, Massachusetts has partnered with several healthcare providers to help low-income residents get the exercise their doctors prescribe, according to the report.

More physicians may be looking for alternatives to prescribing medications. New guidelines issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions that physicians write, advise doctors to try other treatment options before prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

Researchers say physicians should routinely talk with patients about exercise during appointments, but that happens with only about a third of patients, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. The CDC says people who are physically active tend to live longer and are at lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.

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