Doctors at a unique medical facility in Winnipeg are starting to write some unusual prescriptions.

"A lap a day keeps the doctor away" is one of the mottos at the Seven Oaks Wellness Institute (SOWI), a fitness facility attached to the Seven Oaks General Hospital on Leila Avenue, where doctors have started prescribing exercise instead of pills.

Dr. Kevin Saunders is one of the founders of the SOWI and the medical director. He said exercise is an effective treatment for all kinds of illnesses, including hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and even some forms of cancer.

The facility offers clients a more holistic approach to fitness, helping people from all walks of life to understand what kinds of exercise they should be doing, and what they need to avoid if it puts their health in jeopardy.

The SOWI also has the advantage of being attached to a hospital, in case a client should need emergency medical attention — something that does occur from time to time. This allows them to take on more high-risk clients than other fitness facilities. 

Saunders said the SOWI is needed now more than ever, because too many things in our lives have become automated, and, where our grandparents had to find time to relax, we need to find time to be more active.

"Our bodies were meant to be in motion," said Saunders, who blames modern sedentary lifestyles for many of the health concerns facing society in the West. "When patients come in I ask them 'what are you doing? Are you getting out?'"

'People assumed I was sick . . . I was in the best shape of my life!' - Dave Vanderwees

He said the sharp increase in people coming into his office suffering from the effects of a sedentary lifestyle has prompted him to start writing prescriptions for exercise — and Dave Vanderwees is living proof that the philosophy works.

Five years ago Vanderwees's doctor told him he was obese, had high blood pressure and way too much cholesterol, and wanted to put him on medication.

The pills came with some side-effects, like memory loss; Vanderwees told his doctor he was going to take up running instead, and would check back in a few months.

"I figured I would run five miles, or 50 laps around the [SOWI] track," said Vanderwees.

He bought himself a pair of runners and a membership at the SOWI. On his first day he could only manage a single lap, or about 160 meters.

"I was pretty upset," said Vanderwees. "But the next day I did two laps, which was a 100 per cent improvement!" According to Vanderwees, by the end of the week, he was up to five laps.

Within four or five months Vanderwees had lost 40 pounds, and his friends and family assumed the worst.

"People assumed I was sick," said Vanderwees, adding "but I was in the best shape of my life!"

Five years later, Vanderwees runs full marathons and has decided to take part in a triathlon; which means he has had to learn how to swim.

He got into the pool for the first time last November. 

"It was like running that first lap all over again," said Vanderwees. "I couldn't even swim 25 metres!"

As far as his health goes, Vanderwees said he's dropped 50 pounds and his blood pressure and cholesterol are all well below normal.

As for the doctor who tried to put him on medication: "I never went back to see him," said Vanderwees.

Information Radio with Marcy Markusa is live on-location from the Seven Oaks Wellness Institute Monday from 6-8:30 a.m. on 89.3 FM.