“Exercise is Medicine” (EIM) is a global initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine. It has regional chapters in North America, South America, Europe, the Far East and Australia. South Africa has been invited to become the footprint for the African regional chapter for Exercise is Medicine.
It has been established that regular exercise improves health and prevents many non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, depression and even Alzheimer’s disease.
It is also known that exercise can be used very effectively in the treatment of disease. Lack of regular exercise has now been recognised as the single most important contributing factor to mortality – more so than obesity, smoking, diabetes and many other factors. Lack of exercise also contributes greatly to loss of quality of life and loss of independence in old age. Exercise is the most natural remedy in the world and is free. A program to promote exercise as a modality for prevention and treatment of disease, as well as for improvement of quality of life, is certainly worthwhile.
South Africa and Africa has a double burden of disease, with HIV and other communicable diseases on the one hand, and chronic diseases, including the chronic diseases of lifestyle on the other.
Healthcare systems in South Africa are not keeping up with this burden. Between thirty and forty per cent of deaths in South Africa are due to non-communicable disease. Regular exercise can prevent a large portion of these. Research has shown that most South Africans do not exercise sufficiently to enjoy the health benefits of exercise. A programme such as this is therefore certainly relevant in South Africa.
There is ample evidence in the scientific literature that low cardiorespiratory fitness is more detrimental to health in terms of mortality than obesity, cigarette smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and diabetes. It has also been shown that life expectancy is significantly higher in physically fit persons. Moreover, quality of life improves with increased physical fitness.
In a presentation on the benefits of regular exercise, the Exercise is Medicine® movement reported from scientific reports that regular physical activity at the correct intensity:
- Reduces the risk of heart disease by 40%.
- Lowers the risk of stroke by 27%.
- Reduces the incidence of diabetes by almost 50%.
- Reduces the incidence of high blood pressure by almost 50%.
- Can reduce mortality and the risk of recurrent breast cancer by almost 50%.
- Can lower the risk of colon cancer by over 60%.
- Can reduce the risk of developing of Alzheimer’s disease by one-third.
- Can decrease depression as effectively as Prozac or behavioral therapy.
The Exercise is Medicine® initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine has been established in South Africa to promote regular exercise for health.