Exercise: The Medicine Since Antiquity

Introduction

The exercise boom is not just a fad; it is a return to ‘natural’ activity—the kind for which our bodies are engineered and which facilitates the proper function of our biochemistry and physiology. Viewed through the perspective of evolutionary time, sedentary existence, possible for great numbers of people only during the last century, represents a transient, unnatural aberration.” (1).

Image of people exercising in ancient times

As discussed in my earlier post, ‘Exercise is Medicine: but a grossly underutilised therapy‘, physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Overwhelming evidence exists that lifelong exercise is associated with numerous health benefits. Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health, fitness, and quality of life. It also helps reduce your risk of lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), many types of cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. It also improves mental health (reduces depression, anxiety, and dementia).

Physical inactivity is the biggest public health problem of the 21st century (2, 3). In this background, in Nov 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA) co-launched Exercise is Medicine: A Global Health Initiative. The aim was to make physical activity assessment and exercise prescription a standard part of the disease prevention and treatment paradigm for all patients. On the face of it, it looks as if exercise’s role in people’s health is a new ‘discovery’. However, the concept that exercise could be considered medicine, or part of medicine, is almost 2.5 millennia old.

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