Indianapolis — Soon, doctors will be writing prescriptions for exercise if the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have their way. The two groups have partnered to create the Exercise Is Medicine program, which encourages physicians to advise patients to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise and 10 minutes of stretching and light weightlifting into their routines five times a week.

The program is intended to ensure that physical activity is a standard part of discussion in each patient visit and to produce the expectation among patients that their doctor will ask about and prescribe exercise. The AMA and the ACSM 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.

A spokesperson for the AMA says the program should benefit the fitness industry and should increase health club memberships. The AMA will provide physicians with “physician kits” that contain materials such as prescription forms and referral forms, and basic exercise information regarding specific health conditions and details on how to choose a gym and a trainer to help patients get started.

Richard Cotton, the ACSM's national director of certification programs, thinks the physician kits will be key to getting doctors to prescribe exercise to their patients.

“A primary intention of our physician kit will be to help them be more comfortable with the process,” Cotton says. “While many patients can be given a simple prescription to walk or begin a strength or stretching program, an important component of the physician training program will be to assist them introducing their patients to the services offered by the fitness industry, both fitness professionals and clubs alike.”