A doctor’s note for physical activity? One Victoria doctor wants more to prescribe it

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We’ve all heard it before: physical activity is key to living a healthier life.

Now, one Victoria-based doctor is pushing for doctors to write more prescriptions for exercise, rather than just recommending it.

“This is not something that’s a waste of your time, it really does contribute,” said Dr. Josh Levin, a general practitioner at Aroga Lifestyle Medicine.

Levin penned a letter through the Therapeutics Initiative — an independent organization at the University of British Columbia explaining the benefits of physical activity and a framework for healthcare professionals on how to begin implementing prescriptions for patients.

The lead author has been licensed to practice medicine for almost five years now, dealing with patients who suffer from chronic diseases.

“The bottom line is that many chronic diseases — I would say physical activity is an essential part of the treatment and sometimes if people are doing fairly well, that might be all that they need,” said Levin.

The framework follows five A’s: Ask, Advise, Agree, Assist and Arrange. These steps help doctors and patients come up with a plan to improve daily activity, as well as how to follow up with patients.

Levin says writing a prescription for physical exercise is better than just recommending it.

“I’m lucky enough to have a bit of time and really it’s a passion of mine to spend the time and energy with people to come up with an individualized physical activity plan that really works for them,” said Levin.

Earlier this year, Parks Canada teamed up with the B.C. Parks Foundation to launch PaRx, which allows health care providers to prescribe park passes and encourage patients to experience nature to help deal with physical and mental health.

Doctors of BC say this is a good move forward for health care providers and can prompt patients to take their health more seriously.

“Exercise is one of the core foundations of self-care, like healthy eating, healthy relationships, emotional well-being, and so physical activity is right up there,” said Dr. Davidicus Wong, a member of Doctors of BC.

Wong — a family doctor operating out of Burnaby — also likes to practice prescribing exercise to his patients, but he says the physical activity needs to be appropriate for the patient.

“It depends on the exercise, has to be appropriate for the patient. But even psychiatrists recommend an hour of cardio activity to most patients who are able to for mental illnesses,” said Wong.

Wong says he’s seen the quality of life of his patients improve firsthand. For more than a decade, Doctors of BC has hosted Walk With Your Doc — a community event pairing patients and doctors on a walk that allows participants to discuss its health benefits.

This year’s walk is slated to take place in September.

Levin says he hopes this letter is picked up by healthcare professionals across the country, adding that the Ontario Pharmacists Association showed great interest last month following a conference.

Oli Herrera

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