Exercise as medicine

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and a few sets of lunges may help a patient with weak knees get well.

More than 100 doctors from polyclinics, hospitals and private clinics have been trained since 2011 to dispense appropriate doses of exercise to their patients.

Another 100 fitness trainers and physiotherapists supervise patients as they do the exercises. They also plan exercises.

The patients' progress and outcomes are tracked under the Exercise Is Medicine programme started by the Changi General Hospital in 2011.

Healthcare professionals are trained to prescribe the right dose and type of physical activity to prevent and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and asthma.

"We are in the process of tracking outcomes but preliminary results of our study show that there is a general trend of more doctors prescribing exercises to their patients," Dr Ng Chung Sien, staff registrar at the Changi Sports Medicine Centre, told The Straits Times.

The exercises could range from 150 minutes of brisk walking to a weekly one-hour session of taiji, a Chinese martial art form, for better balance.

Measurements are taken to gauge the effectiveness of the exercises. For patients who are prescribed exercises to lose weight, for instance, their weight, skin folds and waistline are measured routinely.

According to the 2010 National Health Survey, 54.1 per cent of Singaporeans do not exercise and one in four aged 40 years or above has at least one chronic disease.

Studies have shown that 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week halves the incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes and reduces the risk of heart disease by 40 per cent.

Said Dr Ng: "We are working with various partners to train more doctors locally and abroad, and one of the immediate goals is to incorporate exercise prescription as part of the medical school curriculum."

This article was first published on April 17, 2015.
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