Using exercise as medicine – How to start!

exercise as medicine

“Eating alone will not keep a man well: he must also take exercise.

For food and exercise

…. Work together to produce health.”

Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC) aka… “The father of medicine”(1)

It’s amazing to me that in this age of medical breakthroughs and exploding technological progress, that the easiest, cheapest, most effective path to health is by simply exercising. That’s it. Just exercise. Studies time and time again show that even in the most simplistic of manners; exercise is medicine. In today’s post we’re going to discover how exercise has been used as medicine, what are its’ benefits, and how you can incorporate it easily into your daily life.



Exercise as a medical option isn’t a new notion. As was previously mentioned above; exercise as medicine was known to be beneficial to human health as far back as 2300 years ago in ancient Greece.

There is evidence that ancient Hindu civilizations as far back as 2000 BCE preceded the ancient Greeks in establishing a link from exercise to was 1) dosas controlled all functions of the body, 2) disease occurred when a dosa was not in harmony with other dosas, and 3) health improved when the dosas were in equilibrium (2).

Around 600 BCE a Hindu physician named Susruta was known to be incorporating these beliefs as doctrine in his teachings at University in Benares, India. In fact he is the first known physician to prescribe exercise for his patients.(3)

“it should be taken every day” but taken “only to half extent of his capacity” as otherwise “it may prove fatal” (4)

Remember. Everything in moderation. 🙂

As far back as 2600 BCE, Chinese medical practitioners were prescribing breathing exercises, (aka Medical Gymnastics)(5) as well as massage for treatment of ailments such as fever, chills and even complete paralysis.(6)

Chinese physician and surgeon, Hua T’O(East Han Dynasty (25 BCE–250 CE)) is noted as saying.

“The body needs exercise only it must not be to the point of exhaustion for exercise expels the bad air in the system promotes free circulation of the blood and prevent sickness.”

Ancient to present. Timeline.


The ancient Greek medical philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, along with Hippocrates, was the first of his time to advocate for daily use of exercise for health reasons(7). Pythagoras prescribed that exercise was needed for optimal life, which included long walks, running, wrestling, discus throwing, and boxing (8).

As you can see this idea of using movement of the body, increasing the heart rate, and competition for improvement of health is not a new or novel idea. It’s been around for millennia.

Currently the American College of Sports Medicine is spearheading an initiative of utilizing Exercise as medicine. You can get more information at Exercise is Medicine.

Health Benefits

I’m sure you’re all aware of the benefits of physical activity and the health benefits that are associated with it, but if you need a reminder, I’ll list them below.

Get after it!

Listed below are health benefits taken from a recent CDC publication (9)

  • Helps control weight
  • Reduces risk for cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
  • Reduces risk for some cancers
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Treat chronic pain
  • Improve health
  • Reduces high blood pressure

Other common health benefits from exercise

  • Improved self esteem
  • Feeling of accomplishment
  • Improved sex drive

But. That’s not all. Exercise has been shown to improve mental health as well.


According to Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.(10)Walking is good for you

Interesting and unfortunate at the same time; it is often underused as an intervention in mental health care, as it’s unappreciated or misunderstood by practitioner and patient that exercise can greatly improve outcomes.(11)

The benefits of exercise far outweigh any possible counter argument that’s might be offered as a reason that people don’t or can’t find the time to exercise. Exercise as little as 30 minutes daily has shown positive effects.


How to make exercise work for you?

Want to start using exercise to improve your health?

First of all you have to have a Goal. What’s your goal? Make sure you write it down, because a goal is nothing but a dream unless it’s written out, visible, and constantly reminding you to work, work, work!

Then you need to research what methods you are going to use to accomplish your goals.

A question you might want to ask yourself is “what do I like to do?” Because if you hate it, you’re not going to do it. You might have to experiment with different types of activities until you find something that resonates with you personally.

As a Personal Trainer, I see this a lot with people starting new fitness programs. They get really excited about the results, but don’t do any research about what’s going to be needed. Then get completely overwhelmed and quit.

Some things you might want to think about :



These are the things you really need to think about to make exercise work for you, because starting and sticking to an exercise program, or making exercise a part of your life can be difficult. Especially if you aren’t someone who likes to exercise or it hasn’t been part of your life.

Think about it. You have to make time for something that requires effort and will most likely cause you some discomfort.

We are wired to avoid discomfort.

30 to 60 Day success plan. What not to do.

Conventional wisdom states it takes 30 days to nail down a routine. 30 days seems actually pretty reasonable to me. I actually think it’s probably closer to 60 days. At least it is for me. Getting a routine to stick has a lot of factors…. And none of them have anything to do with discipline. Especially when exercise is involved.

Jeff’s reasons for not sticking to a routine:

  • Not setting your goal (Not writing it down)
  • Not planning (establishing systems for success)
  • Not prioritizing (part of the planning stage)
  • Not regulating (found in planning stage)
  • Not being realistic (found in planning stage)

As you can see. To me planning is everything. If I don’t plan, I’m not successful with sticking to routines.

This is really important, because exercise takes effort, and can/will be pushed aside for the easier or more enjoyable activities.

Winging it doesn’t work!

Finally just get out and do it!

Tips for success

Being successful with exercise all depends on your goals. Again, make sure they are written down, and visible. If you’re just winging it, those goals will never be met.

Here are some tips for being successful with exercise goals:

  • Write down your goal and put it where you can see it
  • Find something you like to do.
  • Schedule your workouts (iCal, google Calendar, or whatever scheduling app you use)
  • Track your workouts and diet
    • Google fitness/diet tracking and you’ll get TONS of options
    • My fitness pal (free or paid)
    • Strava (requires a phone)
    • Any heart rate monitor or wearable heart rate device
    • Morpheus (I personally use this. It tracks my diet, heart rate variability, resting heart rate, workouts, sleep, and walking)
      • Requires phone and Morpheus band
      • I’ll do a post about this later
  • Reward yourself for a job well done
  • When you meet your goal, set a new one and keep moving forward
  • Have a partner to join you. It’s always easier when you have someone to share the pain
  • Check in with your health care provider to see if your efforts are helping your health numbers (weight, Blood pressure, cholesterol, overall well-being)


You can help yourself

In today’s super technological and medically advanced world, it’s easy to think that if you get sick; you can just go to the doctor and get a pill to take care of it. Don’t fall for this trap. Even if you don’t like to exercise.

” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin –

As we’ve shown in the examples above. Exercise has been used and continues to be used as a method of prevention and rehabilitation of illness. Countless studies have shown that consistent daily exercise is beneficial to not only our physical well-being, but our mental well-being as well.

You owe it to yourself and the people you love to stay as healthy as possible.

Why not start and use a cheap and proven method, that only requires some planning, sweat, and effort. And is FUN!

Use exercise as medicine, and leave the costly and invasive procedures for when you really need them.



1. Exercise is medicine: a historical perspective.Berryman JW Curr Sports Med Rep. 2010 Jul-Aug; 9(4):195-201.

2. Tipton CM. Historical perspective: the antiquity of exercise, exercise physiology and the exercise prescription for health. World Rev Nutr Diet 98: 198–245, 2008.

3. Sushruta Samhita (Sushruta’a Collection) (800-600 B.C.?). Pioneers of plastic surgery.Hauben DJ Acta Chir Plast. 1984; 26(2):65-8.

4. Bhishagrata KK. . Varnasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Series Office, 1963, >span class=”ref-vol”>vol. 2

5. Chancerel PG. Historique de les Gymnastique Medicale. These pour le Doctorat en Medecine. Paris: Faculte’ de Medecine, 1864

6. Veith I. Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine). Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2002

7. Vogel CJ. Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism. Assen, The Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum & Company, 1966.

8. Vogel CJ. Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism. Assen, The Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum & Company, 1966.


10. [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood].Guszkowska M. Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug; 38(4):611-20.

11. Callaghan P. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2004 Aug; 11(4):476-83.


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