When Sydney-based communications specialist Georgina Swan went to her GP suffering lower back pain, little did she expect to be prescribed a miracle medicine: exercise. 

“I thought he was going to prescribe painkillers or anti-inflamatories, instead he recommended I try either yoga or pilates,” said Georgina.

Although it’s long been known that exercise plays an important role in the prevention of disease, it’s now also being used as medicine. In fact it’s being prescribed for some of Australia’s most debilitating illnesses, including depression, type 2 diabetes and cancer.  

“There is mounting evidence that by taking a therapeutic approach to physical activity we can integrate it into both the prevention, and management, of ill health,” said Chris Tzarimas, the Director of the Lifestyle Clinic at the University of New South Wales' Faculty of Medicine. “Fifteen years ago we were telling people with type 2 diabetes to avoid strength training, now the expert consensus is that it is of benefit.”

Like all medicine, exercise is only really effective when it is applied in the right ways, and at the right doses. This is why the Lifestyle Clinic, where Chris works, focuses on designing and tracking exercise programs tailored to individuals and their specific illnesses.

“We are also looking at how we can improve the structure of medical service delivery to make it possible for GPs to specifically prescribe exercise as therapy for their patients,” Chris said.

If Chris and his team succeed, millions of Australians will walk out of their doctor’s offices with an exercise plan, rather than a pill.

“It kind of kick-started me,” said Georgina. “Within a week or two the back pain was gone. It starts up again if I get slack a miss a couple of sessions, but I now know that all I need to do is go back to it and it will keep me well.”