The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) teamed up to launch Exercise Is Medicine, a program that encourages doctors to prescribe exercise to their patients as a way to prevent chronic conditions, obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Physicians should advise patients to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise and 10 minutes of stretching and light weightlifting at least five times a week, according to the program.

The AMA and the ACSM are working to ensure that physicians ask about their patients’ level of physical activity during each patient visit and to produce the expectation among patients that their doctor will ask about and prescribe exercise. The groups also want to help health care providers become consistently effective in counseling patients about their physical activity needs.

Another program goal is to change policy in public and private sectors to support physical activity counseling and referrals in clinical settings. The groups also hope to encourage health care providers to be physically active themselves.

A survey conducted by the ACSM found that nearly two-thirds of patients would be willing to exercise and lead a healthier lifestyle if advised by their physician. Four out of 10 physicians say they talk to their patients about the benefits of being physically active but don’t always offer suggestions about how to be active. On the other hand, 25 percent of patients say they go to their doctor for advice on leading a healthy lifestyle, and 24 percent turn to fitness and health Web sites for this advice.

A new Web site created by the ACSM and AMA allows for patients and physicians to research information about how to lead a physically active lifestyle.

“More than half of Americans don’t get nearly enough exercise and would be astounded to see how much difference a brisk 30-minute walk a few times a week makes in their overall health,” says Ronald M. Davis, AMA president. “We encourage physicians to talk to their patients about the importance of exercise and to work with them to establish programs they can start today and continue throughout their lives.”