Can prescribing exercise actually work?
It’s common for doctors to recommend daily physical exercise, although patients don’t always put that helpful suggestion to use.
That’s why Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta and her team at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) set out to discover if physician-delivered step count prescriptions with the use of a pedometer would better motivate people with Type 2 diabetes and hypertension to become healthier. Dasgupta led a study that was recently published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism.
The study’s findings showed this can lead to a 20 per cent increase in daily steps, involving 364 patients and 74 doctors from various Montreal hospitals.
Dasgupta, a physician researcher and principal author of the study, said changing one’s health behaviours can be difficult, even if they want to be active.
“The idea in this study is to use step counts almost as a medication,” she explained.
Over the course of a year, physicians reviewed the records of the randomized participants at each check-up, with an overall goal of a 3,000 steps per day increase among each individual. The result in health benefits included lower blood sugar and lower insulin resistance.
On average, patients who received the prescription walked an additional 1,200 steps during their daily routine.
Dasgupta added because physical activity is often divided throughout the day, measuring distance can be complicated. “With step-counting, it is easier to quantify your daily physical activity, especially for people who do not run or go to the gym,” she said.
In addition, the study stated the use of pedometers have recently risen in popularity, as the device is effective for tracking steps and setting goals, thus having a great impact on the study’s results.
“Physician step prescription and monitoring to improve ARTERial health (SMARTER): A randomized controlled trial in patients with type 2 diabetes and hypertension”, as mentioned, was published in the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism peer-reviewed medical journal last month. It is the first of its kind to demonstrate the positives of what prescribed steps can do for a patient’s health.
Doctors Stella Daskalopoulou and Ellen Rosenberg were co-leaders in this trial, and the three women intend to take this study another step forward. They point out if they want doctors to prescribe physical activities, “it needs to be aligned and integrated in the medical routine and added to health guidelines, which we plan on doing in the near future.”
In 2015, the Quebec Federation of General Practitioners supplied the province’s nearly 9,000 physicians with the means to prescribe exercise to their patients. Due to more than half of Quebec’s adult population being overweight, this was done in an effort to combat the associated healthcare costs.
As well, since they are medical prescriptions, not the doctor’s suggestion, it is thought to be taken more seriously.
The province’s health ministry is monitoring the results of the program until next year, before reaching a conclusion on how best to proceed at that time.