It’s something you’ve probably heard before: prevention is better than cure. But what if health professionals knew of something that was both possible prevention and cure?

Non-profit health organisation Exercise is Medicine Australia (EIM) believes primary health care providers should prescribe exercise programs for high-risk patients and people with long-term illness, as well as for prevention of illness and promoting health.

“It’s not about a 12 week challenge or weight loss, it’s about sustained physical activity that the patient will continue to do,” said Jennifer Alencar, Project Officer at Exercise is Medicine Australia.

The benefits of physical activity are well-documented, such as decreasing the risk of heart disease by 40 percent, reducing the incidence of diabetes by half, and decreasing depression as effectively as medication and behavioural therapy.

Yet more than 70 per cent of Australians don’t get enough exercise, according to EIM’s figures. Jennifer said healthy goal is to engage in moderate activity 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

EIM Australia works closely with primary care clinicians to support prescribing exercise, last year holding workshops for over 700 GPs, nurses and allied health professionals, who Jennifer said have embraced the initiative.

“They love it. The resources we provide really help them start a conversation with their patient, and plant the seed. Often a GP or a practice nurse only has 10 minutes with a patient, which isn’t really a lot of time to do this sort of lifestyle behaviour modification.”

EIM Australia supplies health care providers with resources like assessment tools, referral pathways, and fact sheets the patient can take home.

“For example, for Alzheimer’s disease, the factsheet details what Alzheimer’s disease is, how exercise can help, and what types of exercise is suitable,” explained Jennifer.

With all of the information on hand, patients can be more easily referred to other allied health professionals like exercise physiologists, who specialise in exercise for the prevention and management of chronic diseases and injuries. They identify the risks associated with an individual’s condition, their personal limits and work within their lifestyle.

“So now when the patient comes back for their next visit they can talk about referring on,” Jennifer said.

EIM Australia is proudly supported by Coca-Cola Australia.