Movement is Medicine: The Prescription for Beneficial Exercise

Katy Santiago Bowman by Katy Santiago Bowman | November 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments
topic: Fitness, Health & Wellness


Why is it that we follow a doctor’s prescription to a “T” but then take additional advice like “no sugar” and “You need to exercise” with a shrug of the shoulders? If your exercise plan was written out for you on a tiny prescription pad, would you follow it? If you had to go to the pharmacy counter to get your grocery items, would it change the way you eat?

A few weeks ago, Dr. Ranit Mishori wrote an interesting article for Parade Magazine that discussed his personal experience with patients not following his recommendation for exercise. I, of course, agree — kind of. If your doctor tells you to exercise, chances are research shows your ailment can improve with an increase in circulation, higher metabolism, lower body mass or reduction in stress. But “You need to exercise” is simply not a sufficient prescription.

What if you went to your doctor and were told to “Take some medicine”? OK, sure … but can you be a little more specific?

Of course, when it comes to pharmaceuticals, your doctor IS very specific when telling you what to take, how much to take and how often. Just as chemicals in your body have an effect on specific tissues, so do different exercise machines, movements and modes (types) of exercise. By now you understand that some medicines make you better and some can make you worse. This is exactly how movement works as well. And while it seems that any exercise would be beneficial, often times this is simply not the case.

Do you need to move regularly?

Absolutely, every day. Multiple hours is optimal, although not practical for most. This is why we started to “exercise” in the first place. Because we weren’t moving at all! In fact, now the term “exercise” has become synonymous with “fitness” (smaller, controlled bouts of movement at a higher intensity). Even though fitness can have a short-term benefit of weight loss, some types of exercises (mostly gym-type activities with bouts of accelerated heart rates) have a fairly significant negative impact on the long-term health of joints and the long-term function of the adrenal glands.

So where should you start?

Begin with the most important component to cardiovascular health, muscle strength and immune-strengthening lymph removal — your muscle length. Your sarcomeres — those are the little units of muscle fiber tissue — are like Goldilocks. They only function optimally when they are just right — just the right length, that is! If you want to see dramatic improvements to chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and type 2 diabetes, then stretch for 20-60 minutes every day! Follow up your stretching with a light, easy-going 15-minute walk, two to three times per day.

3 guidelines for patients

A note to patients: The time has come to take better responsibility for your own health. Taking a regimen of pills is not taking care of your body — it’s cleaning up the mess. Do better. Start today.

Some general guidelines:

1. You need to walk every day.

2. If it hurts to walk, then you need to stretch the backs of your thighs, calves and feet every day until you can walk comfortably. Then see number one.

3. Your strength-to-weight ratio should be 1:1, meaning you should be able to:

  • Stand comfortably on one leg for up to two minutes (without lifting your arms out to the sides or bending either knee).
  • Do a pull-up. No way on the pull-up, right? This inability is a basic indication that you have gotten too weak for your weight or too heavy for your strength. Start with stretching your shoulders and chest (see a sample exercise in this older blog) — it’s a good start!

4 guidelines for doctors

A note to doctors: The time has come to take better responsibility for the advice you are giving. When you give casual suggestions for exercise, whether it be based on your own favorite activity or something you read in a magazine, understand that movement has a localized, instant impact on circulation (blood and lymph) and bone density. Advise better. Start today.

Some general guidelines:

1. Anyone with back pain or degenerative changes in the knees, hips and spine should be instructed to immediately stop any running, jogging or jumping! These activities will increase the rate at which the tissues degenerate and will lead to greater osteoarthritis, disk damage, etc.

2. Please explain that osteoarthritis is not the auto-immune disorder arthritis but a self-induced condition of inflammation in the joints, due to minimal joint space caused by tight musculature. No treadmills or ellipticals for anyone with osteoarthritis. The backward moving belt on a treadmill requires a hip-flexing gait pattern, increasing tension within the hip joint. Walking is good — it just needs to be on regular ground or in a mall.

3. Please explain that research shows consistent, lower intensity movements (walking, yoga, stretching classes) demonstrate greater long-term decreases in body fat than high-intensity and joint-damaging high-impact exercise sessions.

4. Refer responsibly. Most exercise is fad and fat-phobia driven. Find a local practitioner who offers the most research behind their program design, and book a session for yourself! Introduce yourself as a local physician and say that you are looking for a place to refer your patients for a health-based program. Most will be willing to give you a complimentary session!

All right everyone. Take two (laps) and call me in the morning!

View original post at This excerpt republished with permission.


  1. Hi Kathy -

    Nice article and very true. Goes along with the saying about fitting exercise in just as if its like any appointment, theres a need to expand on that information. Not all regimens are appropriate for every person, as you pointed out.

    One question in regard to stretching, I’ve heard that the preference is to warm the muscles with a light cardio before stretching in order to avoid injury? I know this was not meant to be a complete stretching guidline but you mention the opposite 20-60 min. stretching followed by a walk. Can you please clarify which is preferable or should a warm up be added? I”ve heard conflcting info. Thanks

    Mati | December 7th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Hi Mati:
    Although you are right in that you don’t want to stretch cold, unused muscles (just out of bed or after sitting many hours) a quick lap around your house will warm the adequately for stretching – no cardio exercise needed.

    It is OK to stretch after walking too, but stretching beforehand will lengthen muscles so they can participate more in the walking bout – making that session of walking more “worth your time” metabolically (calories). Restoring joint range of motion before walking will also give you a gait pattern with less friction in the joints – which is great for staving off Osteo-Arthritis and other joint damage!
    Happy Walking!

    Katy Bowman, MS | December 7th, 2009 | Comment Permalink

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