Exercise is what the doctor ordered — literally

It's a wonder drug that can prevent and treat dozens of diseases including diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

Paper prescriptions being written for physical activity to underscore just how important it is

Doctors are prescribing exercise to patients and say it's something that's overlooked too often. (Supplied)

It's a wonder drug that can prevent and treat dozens of diseases including diabetes, hypertension and obesity. When taken as directed, it has no negative side effects and to top it off, it's free.

Exercise, says Dr. Michael Rutledge, can do all that, plus prevent cancer and improve mental health. 

"It impacts your day-to-day well-being," said Rutledge, a medical officer of health for Southern Health in Manitoba.

"A lot of people I think have a lot of difficulty relating it to sort of things that they might not ever see, so that cancer, that heart disease, but it actually makes you feel better every day."

Annitta Stenning, 61, says she can personally attest to the difference it makes. 

The Winnipeg woman says she wasn't feeling great last year and knew she had to get moving, so she started working out in earnest at Winnipeg's Reh-Fit Centre.

She had actually been a member of the centre for years, but she hardly ever used her membership.

"I say I was more of a donor. I paid my fees, but I didn't really go."

Stenning had a health matter come up last April that made her recommit to working out. 

She now goes to the centre every morning at 6:30 a.m. when its doors open.

Annitta Stenning now exercises every day. (Submitted)

She says she's already seen a significant change in her life and had her body fat drop from over 48 to 28.5 per cent.

'Changed how I feel'

Rutledge said it's hard to achieve change like Stenning has, and requires changing the way one thinks about working out. 

That's why some physicians are starting to write prescriptions for exercise, he said. 

"To change it for the long term is hard, so we need to make it easier," he said adding that a conversation with a doctor often isn't enough, so prescriptions are being written on actual paper.

"When you talk to a patient about taking their medication, like the drug that they got from their doctor on the prescription, they sort of see that as more important than the advice to be physically active."

Doctors must debunk misconceptions: journal

The Canadian Medical Association Journal agrees.

In a March 2016 article, the association says exercise is a useful but neglected treatment for many chronic conditions.

But the organization warns exercise prescription also requires doctors to be able to manage patients' misconceptions, fears and motivation, especially for patients that are unwell.

For Stenning, the change she's seen in her life is all the motivation she needs.

"It's changed how I feel about myself."

But she knows getting in shape is not as easy as it sounds.

"If someone would have ever said I could run I would laugh," she said, speaking of her former lifestyle.