Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Exercise is the new "vital sign" that is set to change the face of global healthcare, according to a panel of experts at a roundtable discussion hosted by Discovery Health on Wednesday.

Noncommunicable diseases in the country have taken over as the leading cause of death in SA, and exercise can reduce the effect of bad lifestyle habits that cause such diseases.

Endocrinologist at Life Fourways Hospital Dr Sundeep Ruder said lifestyle played a huge role in health and in the resistance against noncommunicable diseases, many of which were preventable through exercise.

He said there were many exercise fads, but running and walking came most naturally to people and were good enough to offset bad health.

The director of the institute for sport, exercise medicine and lifestyle research at the University of Pretoria, Prof Martin Schwellnus, said humans were genetically programmed to do exercise every day and it was detrimental for us not to do so.

He said many years ago, patients who had had heart attacks would be kept immobile, but this was no longer the case. Schwellnus refuted the notion that sick people could not exercise: he said the sickest people in society benefited the most from exercise. He said getting them to exercise would have the biggest effect from a health economics point of view, helping to save on medical costs.

"Patients need to get moving and not be treated as invalids, within the limits of what they can handle" he said.

With the way medical schemes are structured, the majority of patients who are healthy subsidise the minority who are ill and elderly. The healthier the members of a scheme are, the lower the claims. And healthier members increase surplus and sustainability, which results in lower premiums for patients.

GP and the CEO of the South African Medical and Dental Practitioners, Dr Elijah Nkosi, who has participated in a plethora of marathons including the Two Oceans Marathon, said there was a need to focus more on a patient’s sleep, eat and exercise patterns.

He noted that in Soweto, where the municipality had added exercise equipment to public parks, people who had never exercised before were using the free equipment and were positively affecting their health.

However, the experts agreed that many doctors were not confident enough to prescribe exercise as a formal method of treatment. Developing that confidence started with adequate training on this healthcare strategy at medical schools, where not enough literature and education was given to doctors in training.

Please sign in or register to comment.