Beyond "Exercise as Medicine" in Physical Therapy: toward the Promotion of Exercise as a Public Good

Phys Ther. 2022 Jun 27;pzac087. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzac087. Online ahead of print.


Physical therapists are uniquely positioned through their knowledge and skills to help people become more physically active, which may reduce the consequences of physical inactivity for health-related quality of life and the global economy. The "Exercise is Medicine" (EIM) campaign was introduced in 2007. It holds that exercise may be prescribed like a medicine. Although this analogy doubtlessly has promoted innumerable life-changing conversations between clinicians and patients, there are important shortcomings to considering physical activity and exercise as medicine. In the United States, many of these shortcomings relate to how medical services are provided and remunerated. Medical care is provided in the context of exclusive groups, which are established by insurance, preferred service populations, or other characteristics that determine a basis for providing care. Exclusivity means that medical care is frequently provided in a type of club. The club structure of medical care jeopardizes the ability of nonmembers to benefit. Medical care clubs based on payment create an environment in which nonpaying customers may not benefit in the same manner as paying customers from approaches that consider exercise prescribed as medicine. This clinical perspective reviews the characteristics of exercise as a good, focusing on how it is prescribed by physical therapists, and discusses how physical therapists may become involved in the process of making exercise a public good by reducing its exclusivity. Multiple levels of involvement are recommended at the societal, community, and individual levels. These involvements may be guided by an existing construct proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO), which would bring the global physical therapy profession into a common alignment. This Perspective concludes with a discussion that anticipates the shortcomings of conceptualizing exercise as a public good to be addressed in future service delivery models.

Keywords: Exercise; Health Economics; Health Policy; Health Promotion; Prevention.