Prescribing Exercise

Earlier today I saw an article on Facebook about doctors prescribing exercise to treat various conditions. While I’m not exactly opposed to the idea of discussing exercise as a way to maintain long term health, I’m concerned about what implications the idea of prescription could have. 

I’m wondering about the classism, ableism, and sizeism that could emerge in this. If someone has a chronic condition (mental or physical) that makes it hard to move, prescribed exercise might not be possible. And I know a doctor SHOULD be able to adjust for a patient’s specific needs, but there are too many misunderstood conditions and too many doctors that don’t want to put forth the effort or time to figure that out.

Even if someone is physically and mentally healthy, if they are living in poverty that can throw up more barriers. Someone working three jobs doesn’t exactly have time to go for an evening jog. Low-pay jobs are already more often physically taxing, will physicians count that as exercise or still demand more, which someone might be too busy and exhausted to do?

And of course, this could have horrific implications for fat people. There’s no control on applying this prescription equally. I would be unsurprised if doctors “prescribed” exercise at higher levels and frequencies in fat patients, or even accused them of lying regardless of hard data to back it up. I’m not saying exercise can’t be helpful in maintaining health for people of all sizes, but I don’t trust doctors to not be discriminatory in the application. 

For example, I had a doctor ask me about my exercise, which, fine, that’s something she could be asking everyone. But then the second I started explaining it she interrupted me to tell me how exercise works and how you can’t just stop when you get tired and how you have to gradually increase the amount. All basic stuff that she assumed I wouldn’t know, AFTER she hassled me about not wanting to be weighed. It was clear from her words and demeanor that she was reacting to my being fat. If a thin patient had said the same things she probably would have listened and believed them. 

(The kicker is that I grew up with a certified aerobics instructor/personal trainer for a mother so I probably learned more about exercise just sitting in the back of a class after school than she could imagine.)

So I’m not convinced that this is a workable thing. There’s nothing wrong with recommending exercise for long-term health, but there are too many variables for unequal application and discriminatory behavior to make prescribing it a good idea. 

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