This past year I’ve talked with more than 100 family practice physicians about their frustrations in helping people restore their health.

Their most common concern is that people need to show greater interest in taking care of themselves by adopting healthy behaviors. Low back pain is a perfect example, since it is the second most common reason to visit the doctor (a cold being the first), and most low back pain is best prevented and treated by a safe, effective exercise program. This is also true for obesity.

The worldwide obesity epidemic carries greater economic and human-related costs than cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control estimated in 2010 s that more than half of all health care costs stem from obesity-related health problems.

Each and every one of us has the power to improve our health and our own economy by caring more about the choices we make and changing our behavior.

It’s one thing to understand the power of healthy choices. Putting that into action is another story. Most physicians say that regular exercise and good nutrition are the most powerful medicines they can prescribe. The challenge is getting you motivated to help yourself, especially if you’re in chronic pain.

Most physicians also say they don’t have time to develop and monitor lifestyle programs for patients, so they advise patients to walk. But a walking-only exercise program is like a diet consisting of only one food type; other pieces are necessary for complete health.

We see folks in the clinic every day who acknowledge obesity is a major reason for their chronic pain and are willing to exercise and eat better but simply have no idea how to do it. We also see many who start their own exercise program and get injured, leading to a long-term negative association with exercise. This is where health care providers have a golden opportunity.

Because exercise is, in fact, powerful medication, licensed healthcare providers (especially physical therapists) must do a better job of prescribing customized exercise and nutrition programs when treating patients. This may be why insurance companies cover physical therapy in the form of purposeful exercise and nutrition guidance — the implications are enormous.

Colin Hoobler is a licensed physical therapist and has written two books on exercise as treatment for disease and injury

Contract Publishing

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