Exercise may be one of the most potent prescriptions your doctor can give you to prevent and manage a number of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, cancer and osteoporosis.
And that’s why the American College of Sports Medicine has collaborated with the American Medical Association to create a global initiative called Exercise is Medicine (EIM). It’s also why Anne Auguste, 55, of North Miami Beach, and Timothy Soler, 39, of Miami, make their way to the gym most days of the week to take fitness classes and do weight training.
“Doctors who choose to participate in EIM agree to treat exercise like any other vital sign,” says Dr. Tony Musto, who has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and is director of fitness programs for UHealth Fitness & Wellness Center locations in Coral Gables and Miami.
So the next time you visit your doctor, he may not only check your heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and blood pressure, but also your exercise regimen.
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After all, being active can reduce your risk of colon cancer by 30 to 40 percent and breast cancer by 20 to 80 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. And people who are physically inactive have a 30 to 50 percent greater chance of developing high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, says Musto.
Because many doctors are too busy or don’t know enough about exercise to suggest specific routines, the EIM initiative encourages physicians to provide basic information and then refer their patients to a trained exercise professional.
Musto has been working with members of UHealth, the University of Miami’s health system, to make this process easier for doctors who soon will be able to refer patients for exercise through the university’s central electronic chart system.
Once the patient goes to see a fitness expert such as Musto, the type of exercise that is prescribed depends upon the individual. For example, a patient who is diabetic or obese and suffering cardiovascular disease will find that all types of exercise, including weight training, are important. But he should focus on cardiovascular or aerobic exercise.
If the patient suffers the loss of physical function that comes with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, the exercise physiologist might emphasize strength and balance exercises.
“It really depends upon the disease and condition,” says Musto, who has his own exercise regimen. “It doesn’t have to be complicated.”
Starting at about 6:30 a.m., he jogs for 30 to 40 minutes three days a week on the school campus. “I like to work out in the morning when there are no interruptions,” he says.
Two to three days a week, he also does weight training at the wellness center. He spends about 30 minutes using machines or free weights, depending on what’s available.
“I mix it up. Your muscles don’t know if you are using a dumbbell, a barbell or a gallon of milk; they just know if there’s resistance,” Musto says.
On any weekday morning, Musto may bump into Auguste.
“To me, exercise is like oxygen. You can’t live without it. I never, never miss a day unless I’m on vacation,” says Auguste, who is a senior central cancer registry specialist at UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Florida Cancer Data System.
She starts her day at 4:30 a.m. with a glass of “green juice.” She combines frozen fruit, mango, pineapple, bananas, kale and coconut water with protein powder that she blends into a smoothie. “It gives me the energy I need to work out,” she says.
By the time she drives 20 minutes to the fitness center, it’s 5:30 a.m. and she’s ready for her first class of the day.
“Exercise becomes second nature,” she says. “You wake up in the morning and you need to brush your teeth, you need to pray and then you get to the gym. For me, it’s both spiritual and physical working together,” she adds.
Her morning class might be cardio exercise, cycling, yoga or resistance training using weights or bands. By 7:30 a.m., she’s at work. But she’s not done exercising.
At lunchtime she returns to the wellness center where she participates in Pilates or a variety of body-sculpting classes, including one for the legs and butt.
At 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, she reaps the benefits of her workouts. “I have no health issues. None whatsoever. I’m on nada. I have never been on medications,” she says.
Plus she feels good. “I look better now than I did 20 or 30 years ago, and I feel like I’m a different person than I was then,” she says.
Soler is another early riser, but he doesn’t need to set his alarm to get up at 3:50 a.m. “My body is my alarm clock,” he says. That’s when he puts a pod in his coffeemaker and takes his vitamins before he hits the road.
At 4:15 a.m., he arrives at the wellness center, where he meets three friends. When they started, these men didn’t know each other. But they met in the gym a little over a year ago and began talking about fitness or spotting each other on weights. Now they work together on free weights, dumbbells and the resistance machines to harden up their arms and legs.
Soler’s goal is to increase his cardio capacity and raise his endurance level. He also wants to keep his cholesterol and blood pressure in check. They were never high, and he doesn’t have a family history of problems, but he wants to keep things that way.
He also enjoys the way weight-lifting makes him feel. “I like the rush and the pump. There’s no other feeling like it,” says Soler, who is at his job servicing aircraft at the Opa-locka Airport by 9 a.m.
On weekends, he doesn’t slack off but bikes 60 to 100 miles in three to five hours. It’s a routine that takes time and dedication. And it’s not for everybody.
Musto recommends you start being active in childhood and maintain your activity throughout your lifetime.
“Don’t wait until middle age, when risk factors for disease start to emerge and your belly gets a little bigger. By then, it’s crunch time,” he says.