Exercise is Medicine – South Africa

Exercise is medicine, see how we use exercise as medicine.

The idea that one can use exercise as a form of medication can be quite foreign to some. However, this is at the heart of the Biokinetics philosophy (life through movement). Biokineticists are, after all, exercise specialists. In this blog, I aim to give some insight into how exercise can be used as medication for a host of conditions and situations, and how biokineticists can aid in the administering of exercise medication.

Ok, first things first: Can exercise really be used as an effective form of medication?

As a Bio it would seem biased for me to just answer “yes” that exercise is medicine. So, for the individuals out there, like me, who like stats and numbers. This next bit is just for you.

Worldwide, countries are plagued by some burden of disease. The burden of disease can be separated into two categories, communicable and non-communicable disease. Communicable diseases refer to infectious diseases such as HIV, TB & measles while non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are mostly chronic in nature and can be a result of behavioral, genetics and physiological factors such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes.

South Africa has for a long time been challenged by a double burden of disease as we as country struggle to manage both HIV and other communicable disease on one side as well as chronic diseases of lifestyle (NCDs) on the other. Each year 71% of the global deaths in the world are due to NCDs, of the 71% of global deaths, 80% of these are referred to as “premature” deaths as they could have been managed with lifestyle changes.

There is a mountain of evidence to show that regular exercise can be used to improve health and prevent NCDs. Sadly, there is equally a large amount of research that shows South Africans do not exercise enough to enjoy any of the benefits that exercise can have. Majority of them choose to medicate only with what they think is a “quick fix” while making little to no effort at changing their lifestyle behaviour. It reminds me of the picture below:

Exercise is Medicine, two ques one for pills and surgery and on for lifestyle changes. everyone in the pills and surgery line no one in the lifestyle changes line.

This picture is from an article written by Robert H. Shmerling, MD in Harvard Health Publishing

How much exercise do you need to get the exercise benefits? 

The minimum exercise, one would have to do to get benefits is 30 minutes for five days a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, or 20 minutes of vigorous intensity on three days a week. To increase or maintain strength and endurance one would need resistance training twice a week. These bouts of exercise can even be broken up into 5-to-10-minute bouts of exercise thorough the day.

Is exercise only effective for NCDs? 

Exercise as medicine is not only an effective treatment for NCDs but also as a treatment for a host of orthopaedic conditions. One can decide to either opt for the surgical route or for the conservative route when treating orthopaedic conditions. In my opinion I would always recommend starting with a conservative treatment plan then moving to surgery as a last resort.
My opinion is based on the increasing number of studies (2019-2022) that have shown that prehabilitation leads to patients having less complications during and post-surgery, a faster recovery time and a greater functional capacity post-surgery. This then means that by attempting conservative treatment first, one will always win. If the conservative treatment works, you will no longer need surgery or will be able to postpone the surgery. If the conservative treatment does not work, you will be in a better position post operation.  

Whatever your needs are exercise can be used as a treatment if administered correctly. Biokineticists are trained to assess, record, and administer specific exercises tailored to meet your specific needs. 

View our wide range of services, specifically Clinical Exercise Prescription or get in touch with our team directly to see how can change your life through movement.

Written by Wesley Koekemoer.