Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 615–622 | Cite as

Exercise is medicine: some cautionary remarks in principle as well as in practice

  • Ross D. NevilleEmail author
Review Article


On the basis of extensive research on the relationship between physical activity, exercise and health, as well as strong support from policymakers and practitioners, the “Exercise is Medicine” initiative has become something of a linchpin in the agenda for modern healthcare reform and reflects a broader acceptance that the philosophy of health politics must shift from social engineering to performativity. However, in spite of the avowed commitment to encouraging individuals to take on a more reflexive relation to their health, it remains unclear as to whether an initiative such as this is, unambiguously, a good thing. In this paper, a number of cautionary remarks are made with respect to “Exercise is Medicine” in principle as well as in practice. Firstly, it is argued that equating exercise with medicine is to equate it with a definition of and relation to the body to which it is not entirely akin. And secondly, it is argued that any proposed alignment of the fitness and healthcare industries needs further critical examination, a realigning of interests, and a thorough reconsideration of their suitability of fit.


“Exercise is medicine” Health and fitness Object- versus subject-centred risk Fitness and healthcare industries 


  1. Baron, R.J. 1992. Why aren’t more doctors phenomenologists? In The body in medical thought and practice, ed. D. Leder, 37–50. Dordrecht, Netherland: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bauman, Z., and T. May. 2001. Thinking sociologically, 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Bauman, Z. 1992. Morality, immortality, and other life strategies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bauman, Z. 1998. On postmodern uses of sex. Theory, Culture & Society 15(3): 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bauman, Z. 2000. Liquid modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bauman, Z. 2001. The individualized society. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bauman, Z. 2005. Liquid life. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  8. Beck, U. 1992. The risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Beck, U., and E. Beck-Gernsheim. 2002. Individualization. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Beck, U., and J. Willms. 2004. Conversations with Ulrich Beck. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  11. Boero, N. 2010. Bypassing blame: Bariatric surgery and the case of biomedical failure. In Biomedicalization: Technoscience, health, and illness in the US, ed. A.E. Clarke, L. Mamo, J.R. Fosket, et al., 307–330. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bourdieu, P., and J.C. Passeron. 1977. Reproduction in education, society and culture. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Bryant, C.X., and J.A. Peterson. 2006. Exercise is medicine. In Complementary medicine in clinical practice, ed. D.P. Rakel, and N. Faass, 125–130. London: Jones and Bartlett.Google Scholar
  14. Buchanan, I. 1997. The problem of the body in Deleuze and Guattari, or, what can a body do? Body & Society 3(3): 73–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burnham, J.M. 1998. Exercise is medicine: Health benefits of regular physical activity. The Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society 150(7): 319–323.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Castels, R. 1991. From dangerousness to risk. In The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality, ed. G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller, 291–298. London, UK: Havester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  17. Crossley, N. 2006. In the gym: Motives, meaning and moral careers. Body & Society 12(3): 23–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. 1987. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  19. Edwards, S.D. 1998. The body as object versus the body as subject: The case of disability. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 1(1): 47–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Elrick, H. 1996. Exercise is medicine. The Physician and Sportsmedicine 24(2): 72–76.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Foucault, M. 1980. The politics of health in the eighteenth century. In Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings, 1972–1977, ed. C. Gordon, 166–182. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  22. Foucault, M. 1995. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  23. Foucault, M. 1998. The will to knowledge: The history of sexuality 1. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  24. Fox, N.J. 2002. Refracting health: Deleuze, Guattari and body/self. Health 6(3): 347–364.Google Scholar
  25. Giddens, A. 1990. The consequences of modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Giddens, A. 1991. Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  27. Giddens, A., and C. Pierson. 1998. Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making sense of modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Glassner, B. 1989. Fitness and the postmodern self. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 30(2): 180–191.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Glassner, B. 1990. Fit for postmodern selfhood. In Symbolic interaction and cultural studies, ed. H.S. Becker, and M.M. McCall, 215–243. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jonas, S., and E.M. Phillips. 2009. ACSM’s exercise is medicine: A clinician’s guide to exercise prescriptions. Philadelphia, PA: Lippinicott Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar
  31. Leder, D. 1990. The absent body. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Leder, D. 1992. A tale of two bodies: The Cartesian corpse and the lived body. In The body in medical thought and practice, ed. D. Leder, 17–36. Dordrecht, NED: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. MacIntyre, A. 2007. After virtue: A study in moral theory, 3rd ed. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
  34. Marcel, G. 1977. The mystery of being. South Bend, IN: Gateway.Google Scholar
  35. Markula, P. 1997. Are fit people healthy? Health, exercise, active living, and the body in fitness discourse. Waikato Journal of Education 3(1): 21–40.Google Scholar
  36. Markula, P. 1998. Women’s health, physical fitness and ideal body: A problematic relationship. Journal of Physical Education New Zealand 31(1): 9–13.Google Scholar
  37. McNamee, M. 2005. Positivism, popper and paradigms. In Philosophy and the sciences of exercise, health and sport: Critical perspectives on research methods, ed. M. McNamee, 1–20. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  38. McNamee, M.J. 1994. Valuing leisure practices: Towards a theoretical framework. Leisure Studies 13(4): 288–309.Google Scholar
  39. Merleau-Ponty, M. 2002. Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Morall, P. 2009. Sociology and health: An introduction. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Pearce, P.Z. 2008. Exercise is medicine. Current Sports Medicine Reports 7(3): 171–175.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Petersen, A. 1997. Risk, governance and the new public health. In Foucault, health, and medicine, ed. A. Petersen, and R. Bunton, 198–206. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Pronger, B. 2002. Body fascism: Salvation in the technology of physical fitness. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  44. Rojek, C. 2010. The labour of leisure: The culture of free time. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Sallis, R.E. 2009. Exercise is medicine and physicians need to prescribe it! British Journal of Sports Medicine 43(3–4): 3–4.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Sassatelli, R. 1999a. Interaction order and beyond: A field analysis of body culture within fitness gyms. Body & Society 5(2–3): 227–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sassatelli, R. 1999b. Fitness gyms and the local organization of experience. Sociological Research Online 4(3).
  48. Smith Maguire, J. 2008a. Fit for consumption: Sociology and the business of fitness. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Smith Maguire, J. 2008b. Leisure and the obligation of self-work: An examination of the fitness field. Leisure Studies 27(1): 59–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Tsai, E.H.L. 2005. A cross-cultural study of the influence of perceived positive outcomes on participation in regular active recreation: Hong Kong and Australian university students. Leisure Sciences 27(5): 385–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. White, P., K. Young, and J. Gillett. 1995. Bodywork as a moral imperative: Some critical notes on health and fitness. Society and Leisure 18(1): 159–182.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Arts and TourismDublin Institute of TechnologyStraffan, Co. KildareIreland

Personalised recommendations