60 Plus: Exercise is Medicine

This article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald.

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Exercise is medicine

by Janis Hall

July 24, 2016

When you think of health care and medicine, you probably think of doctors, hospitals and drug prescriptions. But there’s growing recognition that patients’ daily activities have a huge potential to support good health. For those who are able, getting outdoors can be an effective boost. It is very important to get the body moving while doing activities that reduce stress.


This could be as simple as taking a walk or wheelchair trip to enjoy the trees and flowers. Cycling is an excellent low-impact activity, and there are three-wheeled bikes for those who worry about balancing. According to peopleforbikes.org , cycling by older adults has been growing at an even greater rate than among younger people.


The Vermont Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports encourages health care professionals to talk with patients about the importance of exercise to prevent and treat chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and dementia. Janet Franz, representing the council, explained, “There are lots of studies showing that exercise, especially outdoors, has health benefits.”


The Governor’s Council offers the Vermont Parks Prescriptions Program in collaboration with Vermont State Parks. Health-care professionals are provided with pre-printed “prescriptions” for exercise, which are actually free day passes to Vermont state parks. These can be given to patients who will benefit from healthy outdoor activities.


Patients cannot get prescriptions directly from the council. Patients are encouraged to ask their health-care professional for a parks prescription. If the doctor does not have them, the patient might suggest that they sign up.


Practitioners who are already signed up should receive their prescriptions any day now, according to Franz. Professionals who wish to sign up for next year may e-mail the council at: vermontfitness@vermont.gov . If there are extra prescriptions available this year, some may be provided to new participants.


The council endorses Exercise is Medicine, an initiative by the American College of Sports Medicine focused on encouraging health-care providers to include physical activity when designing treatment plans for patients. EIM is committed to the concept that physical activity is integral in the prevention and treatment of diseases, and should be regularly assessed as part of all health care.


Another program to help Vermonters enjoy the out-of-doors is Green Mountain Passport. Vermont residents 62 years or older, and veterans honorably discharged from active duty in U.S. armed services, are eligible. This lifetime pass costs just $2, and provides free day-use admission to all Vermont state parks (not including overnight camping and certain other fees), Vermont state historic sites, and events which are fully state sponsored. To sign up, apply through your city or town clerk’s office.


There are more than 20 Vermont state parks in the southern half of Vermont, including lakes, picnic areas, historical sites and forests. All but two of these are advertised as having universal accessibility, which means the restrooms are fully accessible and some portion of the park is flat and firm enough for wheelchair and walker access. For more details about the parks, see www.vtstateparks.com , or contact parks@vermont.gov or 1-888-409-7579.


If you’re feeling particularly motivated, consider volunteering out-of-doors. Vermont state parks have opportunities for individuals and groups ranging from short-term projects to season-long assignments. People of all interests and abilities, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, fill roles such as visitor registration, fee collection, customer service, leading interpretive programs, cleaning restrooms and campsites, lawn mowing, landscaping and beautification, park cleanup at opening or closing, or staffing special events.


   Janis Hall is the outreach development coordinator for Senior Solutions–Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont. 60 Plus is a collaboration between Senior Solutions and the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging. Both can be reached by calling the Senior HelpLine at 800-642-5119.



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