ABU DHABI // Doctors say they are fed up with fruitless efforts to encourage out-of-shape patients to exercise - advice that often falls on deaf ears.
Some now wonder if perhaps written prescriptions to exercise may be the answer.
Dr Mubasher Kharal, an internal medicine specialist at the King Abdul-Aziz Medical City in Riyadh, raised the issue during this week's Arabian Public Health Forum in Abu Dhabi.
Doctors are always telling patients to exercise, or to at least be physically active, for half an hour five times a week. However, because no medication is involved, the advice cannot be given in an authoritative form.
"The data is so obvious: both physical activity and structured exercise provide an overwhelming benefit to patients with cardiovascular problems, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol," he said.
"The majority of medicines we prescribe are great, but have side effects or come with a risk, which is not the case for exercise.
"Wouldn't it be great if we could write a prescription telling our patients to go walk on a treadmill for 'X' amount of time a week?"
Dr Silvano Zanuso, from the department of exercise science at the University of Padua in Italy, said another issue was the intensity of exercise. Simply moving is not good enough, which is why he believes doctors should have treadmills in their clinics to show patients how intense workouts should be.
"Patients have to be educated on what constitutes the right intensity in exercise so they get the maximum benefit," he said.
"Hanging around at a mall is not enough - it is better than sitting on the couch all day and being sedentary, which is proven to be a high risk factor, but not sufficient."
Dr Zanuso said that a combination of physical activity, such as walking a dog, and structured exercise, such as jogging, has been proved to prevent and treat diabetes.
Dr Rakesh Malhotra, an endocrinologist at the New Medical Centre Speciality Hospital in the capital, pointed out that there sometimes are complicating factors in patients' failure to follow doctors' advice to exercise.
"How many children have access to good parks, and how many of us have a walking area beneath our homes, in order to exercise as we should? Everything has to change from top to bottom," he said.
"I tell patients to exercise, but even I can't manage to exercise more than twice a week, which is not enough."