It is well recognized that the population of individuals over the age of 65 in the United States is expanding. With age, comes natural and expected physiologic deficits in the musculoskeletal system that affect the pursuit of exercise and fitness.
A discussion of medical fitness is rooted in an understanding of the health benefits of fitness and exercise. The documented benefits are endless and include management of chronic disease, management and prevention of osteoporosis, improved mood and sleep disorders, stress relief, management and prevention of obesity.
Health agencies across the spectrum of public health and disease-specific organizations recognize and promote exercise and fitness as an integral part of the management of chronic disease; diseases that include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, depression, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis, among others.
If fitness and exercise are well accepted as part of the management strategy for multiple diseases, why is it that access to organized exercise plans, and fitness professionals who can help implement those plans, are not a standard part of the medical treatment paradigm? Why is it not a standard benefit covered by common medical insurance policies?
The reasons are multifactorial and a reflection of the overall healthcare conundrum in our country today. Let’s focus, however, on how to make a change. We need to focus on how to integrate fitness professionals into the medical paradigm. A perfect model for this is an integrative medical fitness center.
What is a medical fitness center? It is a fitness facility with a multidisciplinary staffing approach and has the following characteristics:
- Regular medical oversight by a medical director
- Practitioners with nationally-recognized certifications and training in the care of chronic disease
- Comprehensive health assessments and exercise prescription
- Exercise classes geared toward specific medical conditions
These centers bring together credentialed staff in a collaborative way to provide exercise prescription plans specific to the needs of an individual with chronic disease.
The concept of the medical fitness center is not new; many currently exist in communities throughout the United States. However, an understanding of their importance in the context of the current healthcare environment has grown. The idea of creating “medical homes” that are collaborative across disciplines and provide a comprehensive healthcare approach is now being recognized to provide a high standard of care while simultaneously decreasing overall healthcare costs. This is true specifically for high-risk individuals who suffer from chronic disease.
Further integration of medical fitness centers, and broad access to exercise and fitness resources, will hopefully become standard of care and widely accessible to all individuals, especially those with chronic disease. This integration will inherently bring fitness professionals into the paradigm of healthcare and promote healthcare through fitness.
This article was featured in MedFit Professional Magazine fall 2019 issue.
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Dr. David Kruse attended medical school at UC San Diego, after graduating from UC Berkeley. He holds board certifications in family and sports medicine. He practices sports medicine with the Orthopaedic Specialty Institute, in Orange, CA. Dr. Kruse is the Chief Medical Officer for the MedFit Network and on the Medical Advisory Board for the MedFit Education Foundation. He is currently a Team Physician for USA Gymnastics, Orange County Soccer Club, and Biola University. Visit his website, krusesportsmd.com