What the Doctor Ordered: Exercise Prescriptions
Want to start exercising, but can't find the motivation? A visit to your doctor may help.

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man exercising and jogging outdoors What the Doctor Ordered: Exercise Prescriptions

Everyone knows they should exercise. The reasons to exercise seem endless -- from better weight control to stress reduction. The risks of not being physically active are also well known. A higher risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes are just a few. But 1 in 4 American adults do not exercise at all and more than half don't work out enough. So what can make you start exercising? A trip to your doctor may be in order.

Exercise prescriptions
If your doctor writes you a prescription for an antibiotic, you are most likely going to take it. But what if your doctor writes you a prescription to exercise? The same thing holds true.

Research shows that people are likely to start and stick to an exercise program if their doctor tells them to do so. One study shows that people are more likely to follow their doctor's advice if the doctor writes an actual prescription instead of just verbally telling them.

So why do people listen to their doctor's exercise advice? One reason may be that people are more concerned with their health when they are at the doctor's office. This may make them more willing to follow the doctor's orders.

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program for medical clearance and to help develop for a specific exercise plan that is right for you.

Your exercise plan

A typical exercise prescription often contains all 3 types of exercise for a balanced workout:

1. Cardiovascular exercise. These are exercises that raise your heart rate and use large muscles. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. With your doctor's approval, start out slow and increase your cardiovascular exercise to most days of the week. If you like, break up your aerobic activity into periods of at least 10 minutes each and spread throughout the week. Good exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Jogging
  • Elliptical machine

2. Muscle strengthening activities. These exercises include moderate or high intensity activities that increase strength and endurance of all major muscle groups. Examples of strength training include weightlifting and resistance training.

3. Flexibility. Exercises that stretch your muscles and increase your range of motion increase your flexibility. Doctors often suggest bending and stretching in daily activities, but be sure to only stretch after a proper warm up to the activity. Taking a yoga class may also help improve flexibility.

Tips to help you stay on track

  • Start slowly. You may need to start with 10 minutes of exercise at a time and gradually build up to your weekly goals.
  • Do something you enjoy. You are more likely to stick with an exercise you enjoy doing. If you love to swim, consider joining a gym that has a pool.
  • Find a convenient time and place. Not all physical activity has to be done at the gym. Choose a time and place that is most convenient for you. Walk around your office parking lot on your lunch break or do jumping jacks and push-ups during commercial breaks of television shows.
  • Get a workout buddy. Exercise with a friend. It's a lot harder to skip a workout if someone is counting on you.
  • Don't overdo it. Slowly increase workout time and intensity.
  • Keep a record of your exercise progress. An exercise journal will show you how far you've come. Reward yourself when you reach milestones.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Wear shoes and clothes that are appropriate for the activity you are doing.
Remember to keep up with your exercise plan, just like you would any other prescription for good health.
By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Contributing Writer
Created on 03/12/2009
Updated on 06/08/2012
Sources:
  • United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity and health. A report from the Surgeon General.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Exercise: how to get started. American Family Physician. 2006;74(12):2095-2096
  • American Heart Association. Tips for exercise success. Getting started-tips for long-term success.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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