Surgeon General Urges Exercise for Optimal Health

Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA


June 17, 2010

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Editor's Note:

The following commentary from US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, is a collaboration between the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and Medscape.

As Surgeon General, my priorities focus on wellness and prevention. Earlier this year, I released my paper, The Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation [2010].

There is, perhaps, no more serious challenges to the nation's health and well-being than those posed by obesity and overweight. Since 1980, obesity rates have doubled in adults and more than tripled in children, and the problem is even worse among black, Hispanic, and Native American children. We see the sobering impact of these numbers in the high rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses, that are starting to affect our children more and more.

A few months ago, a study from The University of North Carolina [at Chapel Hill] School of Medicine reported that obese children as young as age 3 show signs of an inflammatory response that has been linked to heart disease later in life. I was pleased to join the First Lady for the launch of her Let's Move! campaign to solve the problem of childhood obesity within 1 generation.

Both my Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation and the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign take a comprehensive approach that engages families and communities, as well as the public and private sectors. My Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation is an attempt to change the national conversation from a negative one about obesity and illness to a positive conversation about being healthy and being fit. I want to encourage Americans to eat more nutritiously, exercise regularly, and maintain healthier lifestyles.

That is why I am asking healthcare organizations across this country to join the Exercise is Medicine initiative. Exercise is Medicine is a multinational, multiorganizational initiative. It brings physical activity to the forefront of disease prevention and treatment, by making exercise a part of every patient's interaction with a health clinician. Exercise is Medicine strives to provide the essential connection between clinicians, fitness professionals, and the public, so that everyone can receive the guidance they need to stay healthy and active. All the partners in this initiative are dedicated to the idea that exercise is the new medicine. Partners are asked to continue to build, support, and advocate for physical activity as an essential element of global health and well-being by committing to action:

  • Policy makers are asked to change policies to support physical activity as a major component of health.

  • Clinicians and fitness professionals are asked to integrate exercise into every patient and client interaction.

  • Communities, workplaces, and schools are asked to promote physical activity as an essential part of health and well-being.

  • Members of the public are asked to educate and empower themselves to seek appropriate counseling on physical activity.

As health professionals, we should remember that patients are more likely to change their behavior if they have a meaningful reward -- something more than reaching a certain weight or dress size. The reward has to be something that each person can feel, enjoy, and celebrate. The reward is optimal health that allows people to embrace each day and live their lives to the fullest -- without disease, disability, or lost productivity. I hope you will join the Exercise is Medicine initiative. Together, America can become a Healthy and Fit Nation.


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