If there is one thing that we could do to improve our health and wellbeing, it is exercise. We have often been told that physical activity is good for both body and mind.
There is strong evidence to support the theory that regular aerobic workouts at moderate to vigorous intensity can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. But despite its numerous benefits, many people still refrain from it.
A 2012 survey by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation showed that 80% of the Thai population aged 25-59, and 72% over 60, did not participate in regular workouts.
A 2011 report from the National Statistical Office observed that the Thai population over the age of 11 had decreased in physical activity and exercise from 29.1% in 2002 to 26.1% in 2011.
They stated their roadblocks as being a lack of time, and modern physical and social environments. It was found that only 46% of individuals who were regularly engaged in physical activities got more than 30 minutes of exercise per day. The duration of many people's exercise may be insufficient for improving overall health, according to universal guidelines of 150 minutes of workouts a week (30 minutes, five times a week) at a minimum. "Exercise is the wise thing to do," affirmed Dr Arth Nana, dean of the College of Sports Science and Technology of Mahidol University. "When it's done at the right intensity and duration, exercise is powerful in improving and maintaining health. On top of that, it helps decrease the chance of disease, chronic health conditions and obesity."
To spur patients and the public to make exercise a habit, Mahidol University's College of Sports Science and Technology in collaboration with the Royal College of Family Physicians of Thailand and Golden Jubilee Medical Center has introduced the "Exercise is Medicine" programme in Thailand, with the support of American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
The programme was started in 2007 by ACSM, and partners such as The Coca-Cola Company. The project, which operates in 31 countries, began with the objective to promote physical activity though exercise prescribed by physicians and healthcare providers as a means to prevent, manage and treat diseases among patients and the public.
"We think that when exercise is prescribed as medication to remedy an ailment by a physician, patients generally take it more seriously than when this is heard elsewhere," Dr Arth said.
To achieve this goal, Mahidol University's College of Sports Science and Technology and its alliances has arranged a series of training sessions for Thai medical professionals to give them necessary skills, tools and resources for designing the right amount of exercise suitable for each patient.
"We want to encourage medical professionals to use exercise prescription as a medical tool and make it part of their routine in each patient visit," said Dr Arth. "Doctors are not trained in sports medicine and may not be skilful in exercise prescription. We hope that these sessions make them feel confident to prescribe a dose of exercise."
He explained that a physician is responsible for evaluating a patient and then prescribing an exercise programme in line with their clinical status. The prescribed activities are specially designed to meet their fitness-related goals based on mode, intensity, duration and frequency of exercise, as well as their interests. Doctors then refer patients to healthcare providers or rehabilitation specialists that will then help patients with the prescribed workouts.
"Doctors will prescribe an exercise programme, like 30 minutes a day, five times a week, similar to a dose of medicine, like one tablet after meals three times a day.
"By referring patients for exercise, I hope the programme will improve the health for all in the long run, while reducing the burden of national health costs," Dr Arth said.
Lt Gen Dr Pornthita Chaiamnuay, a rheumatologist at Phramongkutklao Hospital's Department of Medicine, who participated in the training session, said the knowledge she gained from it provided her with new insights into treating her patients. She said exercise is an indispensible part of therapeutic and rehabilitative programmes for patients with arthritis-related problems. A lack of physical activity can cause poor balance, stiff joints and weak muscles. Patients with arthritis who are inactive are also at higher risk of other medical ailments such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems and osteoporosis. Dr Pornthita said precautions need to be taken to guarantee that the workout is done under proper supervision.
Dr Trairat Tipmongkok at Bangkok Hospital Ratchasima's Check-up Department noted that Thai patients place a high value on medication when it comes to addressing health problems. And there is a popular misconception among them that being thin equals good health, so they don't need to exercise.
"Being thin doesn't necessarily mean you are healthy. A lot of skinny people have high cholesterol. Increased physical activities and exercise can bring it down. If we don't exercise, the heart and lungs do not work properly. And our muscles become weak and joints stiff. I am equally inspired to workout, myself. Medical professionals also need to lead by example," said Dr Trairat.