Medicines & Exercise: Partners. But who is leading in this dance?

tangoLongevity is not accidental.  The “well-elderly” know that a lifetime pattern of exercise and healthy living makes for an active and enjoyable life. Coming to exercise and healthy living, later in life, also has enormous benefits.  As is often said about developing new helpful habits –“it’s never too late”, but with exercise, it is important to start.

Dr. Richard Sloan, professor of Behavioural Medicine of Columbia University, NYC says; “exercise helps pretty much everything even if we don’t understand all of it”

A March 14, Canadian Medical Association Journal article titled Prescribing exercise interventions for patients with chronic conditions, states that doctors should prescribe exercise in addition or even instead of pills.  The article goes on to say – “exercise has long been shown to benefit patients with a variety of chronic conditions.  When it comes to reducing the chance of dying from a heart attack, regular workouts are just as effective as pills…the same goes for rehabilitation following stroke, preventing diabetes, lowering blood pressure, and treating heart failure”.

However prescription medicines are vital for managing certain diseases those prescriptions are to be respected. The problem is that our intake of prescription medicines increases with age.  Barbara Farrell of the Bruyère Research Institute in Ottawa on CBC’s The Current, February 7th 2016, shares the figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information as – “two thirds of people over the age of 65 take more than five medicines and about 39 percent of those over 85 take more than ten medications”.

A time for deprescribing?

Some medications are not for a disease control, but are there to manage side effects of prescriptions.  Barbara Farrell goes on to say “more medications get started and guidelines are very good at telling us when to start drugs but they are not very good at telling us when to stop drugs”.

The idea of reducing the number prescribed medicines, (called deprescribing), is now promoted as a process by many experts in the medical field.  You can find guidelines for deprescribing for the elderly at

There are three main and very real, disrupting results from over prescribing – confusion, doziness and hallucination. Each one of these, or any in combination, can lead to misdiagnoses of a serious nature, such as dementia and/or a physical impairment. Not to exclude one other contributing factor – falls from all of these mixed-up med issues can be a leading cause of death.

But reducing vital medicines in favour of exercise willie-nillie is not safe.  What is safe is to get advice from both your doctor and your pharmacist. As in a tango, both lead in this dance – each participant respects the energy of the other and they both agree in the end that they are equal. Doctors, as experts in diagnosing – and pharmacists as experts in the chemistry of medicines. They are the dance partners in helping you manage your care.

As my guiding principal always is – a good precaution is never wasted. So – go and sign up for Tango lessons. No RX required.



Mary Ellen Tomlinson


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