Patients often expect to receive a prescription for medicine when they visit their doctor, but some doctors are now taking an innovative approach and prescribing exercise.
An exercise prescription goes beyond a brief “how can I become more active” discussion. The goal is to teach and support patients as they adopt lifelong healthy habits.
Eddy Kicker recently experienced a minor back issue and received a prescription to the Physician Referred Exercise Program through Bon Secours St. Francis Health System. P.R.E.P. is a 60-day program based at St. Francis Physical Therapy, which is situated inside Sportsclub Greenville. Participants work with a physical therapist and a personal trainer and have access to all the gym’s equipment. The program costs $60 – essentially a dollar per day.
Kicker had been walking regularly for the past four years, but P.R.E.P. gave him the confidence to do more.
“The program helps you wherever you are in your fitness journey and not just to get in better shape. They also work with you on balance, strength, endurance and stretching,” Kicker said.
According to Scott Carley, a physical therapist with P.R.E.P., many participants join the club after the program ends.
“These individuals are now confident out on the gym floor. They know the staff and feel connected to other members,” Carley said. “We see P.R.E.P. as another piece of the pie in quality patient care.”
Dr. Jennifer Trilk, associate professor and director of the Lifestyle Medicine Program at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, has long known the power of prescribing exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. She explained that sedentary behavior is the fourth leading cause of mortality in the United States. She advocates for the importance of physical activity in preventing and treating diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
Dr. Trilk is also the program director of Exercise is Medicine Greenville, which is affiliated with Prisma Health, the YMCA of Greenville and the American College of Sports Medicine.
After receiving a doctor’s prescription for EIMG, patients meet with a nurse navigator to determine if the program is right for them, and then an individualized program is developed. The 12-week intervention program costs $249 and includes full access to the facility. Financial assistance is available at YMCA locations to defray the cost if needed. Providers in more than 20 Prisma-affiliated offices refer patients, and many of them choose to join and continue their fitness journey at the YMCA.
Dr. Trilk was a founding member of the USC School of Medicine Greenville – the first and only medical school in the country to require students to be trained in lifestyle medicine, including nutrition, physical activity, sleep hygiene, behavior change and self-care. This training prepares physicians for the growing challenge of chronic diseases they will be expected to treat and prevent.
Galen Bennett, assistant fitness director the Medical University of South Carolina Wellness Center in Charleston, said, “weight loss is not always the main goal of a fitness/wellness program. There are many benefits to a well-structured exercise program, such as reducing the risk of certain diseases, improving quality of sleep and preventing cognitive decline.”
Patients often visit the Wellness Center on the recommendation of their health care providers and take part in programs such Better Back, Knee Rx, Rock Steady Boxing and the Breast Cancer Survivors Fit Club.
There are plenty of other places for residents to embrace more activity. For instance, Tidelands Health, an MUSC Health affiliate, has a prescription-based walking program called “A Walk in the Garden” in partnership with Brookgreen Gardens. If patient qualify, their Tidelands doctor gives them a walking program prescription redeemable for a free 30-day pass to Brookgreen Gardens.
Eddy Kicker knows what it’s like to go to a gym on your own.
“It can be intimidating. You walk in not sure what to do and often never feel engaged,” he said. “Now I feel like I belong.”
Kicker is looking forward to the best part of retirement – spending more time with his grandkids. His exercise prescription is helping him do just that.
By Lisa Wack