What is an Exercise Prescription?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2019
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An exercise prescription is in many ways exactly what it sounds like; rather than writing a prescription for a certain type of medicine, a doctor will write a "prescription" for a patient to get a certain amount of exercise, most often to improve overall health or target a specific health problem such as high blood pressure. Exercise used as a form of medicine is a relatively recent development, as doctors have begun to see that few people receive their recommended daily amount of exercise. An exercise prescription may include a referral to a particular exercise program, such as for physical therapy, or it may simply be a recommendation for a specific amount of aerobic or strength exercises per week of the patient's choosing.


Frequently, an exercise prescription is offered for medical conditions that may be caused by being overweight or leading a sedentary lifestyle. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, other forms of heart disease, diabetes, or even an increased risk of certain cancers, just to name a few. An increase in one's physical activity can help to treat or in some cases even reverse these conditions, sometimes eliminating the need for other medications. In this way, an exercise prescription may be seen as a holistic way of treating the patient, rather than prescribing a medication to treat just one problem of many potential ones. A doctor may also recommend a supervised exercise prescription for weight loss, which is a safe way to begin exercising if one is obese or overweight.

Sometimes, mental health professionals will give an exercise prescription as a way to treat certain mental illnesses as well, such as depression or severe anxiety. Aerobic exercise helps to boost endorphins in the brain, which may improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety, which can be very beneficial. For any type of exercise prescription, a doctor might recommend a specific exercise; often, these are low-impact activities such as walking or swimming until one's physical fitness level increases and more challenging activities may be tried, such as running, hiking, or biking, just to name a few.

If a doctor makes an exercise recommendation, it is important to follow it, as well as any nutritional advice that is offered. Good nutrition and an active lifestyle can help to treat and prevent a number of illnesses, and can help to improve overall quality of life. Be sure to gradually increase the intensity of the exercise over time, and to always warm up and cool down, in order to prevent injuries.



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