Many people do not exercise enough, even though they know they should. One incentive might just come from the doctor. Recent studies show that a written prescription for exercise helps motivate people to get moving.  

People around the world spend billions of dollars each year on medications to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and control weight and diabetes.
Doctors -- and most of their patients -- know that exercise is one of the best things people can do for themselves. Exercise lowers cholesterol, helps control diabetes, contributes to weight loss, and lowers blood pressure. Just as importantly, it reduces the need for medications to control many of these conditions.

Professor Miriam Morey led the most recent study on prescribing exercise. She focused on cancer survivors like Joe Collie, who had surgery for prostate cancer. "The operation was in July of '93, so it's been 16 years since I had that procedure," he explains.

Collie and more than 600 other cancer survivors went on diets and exercise programs tailored to their needs. They also spoke with counselors over the telephone on a regular basis.

After 12 months, researchers were surprised to find that those who participated in the diet and exercise program increased their physical activity, lost weight and reported less physical decline than those in a control group. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Professor Morey says the study's results should help change patient care. "We can deliver this intervention to your home. You don't have to go anywhere. You can be on a mountaintop living by yourself, or in another country, and we can deliver this intervention," she said.

Professor Loretta DiPietro heads George Washington University's Department of Exercise Science. She says she was not surprised by the results of Morey's study. "We've been working with physicians for years and years to get them to discuss exercise with their patients," DiPietro states.

She says it is easier to prevent disease with exercise than it is to use exercise as part of treatment after the illness is diagnosed. 

"Exercise has its greatest benefits on the prevention end of the equation," PiPietro adds. "It's much more effective in preventing excessive weight gain or excessive rises in blood sugar and cholesterol."

But she also says different exercises can help people with different diseases.  For example, people at risk for osteoporosis benefit from weight bearing exercise. People with high blood sugar benefit the most when they exercise after a meal.

And Professor Morey says her study proves that cancer survivors suffer less decline in mobility when they get exercise tailored to their needs.

Joe Collie sums it up like this: "You've got to be able to get up and move around."

Researchers are not only discovering which exercises are best, but how often, how intense and how much time per week exercises should be done to maximize the benefit.

The only difficulty now is getting people to do them.