Moving Health: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Exercise is Medicine® — Much Accomplished, Much More to Do!

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Moving Health: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Exercise is Medicine® — Much Accomplished, Much More to Do!

Robert Sallis, M.D., FACSM |  Nov. 21, 2017

It is hard to believe that this month (November) marks 10 years since the Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) initiative was created during my tenure as president of the American College of Sports Medicine. It is exciting to look back and reflect on how far this initiative has come and where it can go in the future. As a family medicine physician, I have observed first-hand the harmful effect that a sedentary lifestyle can have on my patients. And, as an ACSM member, I became keenly aware of the vast scientific evidence base being assembled that has clearly demonstrated the health benefits of being physically active. It was obvious to me that, if such compelling evidence had been developed around a pill or surgical procedure, every doctor around the world would want to prescribe it to their patients — in fact, it would be malpractice not to do so! 

To me, it made perfect sense back in 2007 to use my pulpit as ACSM president to work toward making physical activity assessment and exercise prescription a standard part of the disease prevention and treatment paradigm for all patients. Along with that, I felt we needed to work toward merging the fitness industry with the health care industry so that physicians could refer inactive patients to a fitness professional and perhaps avoid increasingly costly pills and procedures. 

The first five years of EIM mainly involved getting the word out, building infrastructure and establishing collaborations (see SMB, May 17, 2011). During the last several years, there have been a variety of efforts to move EIM forward in an increasingly complex and changing health care landscape, including education, partnerships, outreach and policy work. 

Some key highlights include:

  1. Building an EIM global health network, including seven regional centers that coordinate EIM partnerships in some 43 countries around the world. These are linked by a robust website designed to enhance communication and collaboration across this network;

  2. Establishment of the World Congress on Exercise is Medicine as a central component of the ACSM annual meeting. The congress provides an annual dynamic forum for scientists, clinicians, health policy specialists and others to share the latest information on research and build collaborations across the country and around the world;

  3. Growth of a vibrant EIM on Campus network that now includes 164 college and university campuses around the world and is still growing;

  4. Development of a global EIM CME course to teach health care providers how to assess, counsel and refer patients for physical activity prescription to treat and prevent chronic disease;

  5. Creation of an EIM Credential to qualify all NCCA-certified fitness professionals to receive and work with patients referred from health care providers;

  6. Successful piloting of the EIM Solution model — linking clinical care/Physical Activity Vital Sign (PAVS) to community networks — at the Greenville Health System and the Greenville YMCA;

  7. EIM partnerships with various health care associations and fitness organizations that have helped drive important programs to improve physical activity; specific partnerships include the Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking, the Every Body Walk! Collaborative and the Prescription for Activity Task Force.

On this 10th anniversary of EIM, the ACSM Board of Trustees has begun a process entitled “EIM Re-imagined,” the goal of which is to redefine EIM priorities to help guide its program efforts in the coming years. Key areas for advancement will include further establishing the use of the PAVS as a standard of care around the world. That standard encompasses identification of all inactive patients, counseling them and, perhaps, referring them to a qualified fitness professional as part of the EIM Solution. Working to establish collaborations with the health club and fitness industries is the third component of the EIM Solution. It requires redefining the role of fitness professionals and the clubs where they deliver exercise services — enabling them to provide patients with therapeutic exercise to prevent and/or treat chronic disease. Along with this should come reimbursement for services and recognition of the vital role the fitness industry can play in improving global health. We also want to expand the reach of EIM On Campus so that no student will leave a college campus less fit than when they entered and without a lifetime plan for their personal fitness. Further, there are plans for advocacy initiatives to increase funding support available for physical activity research; this initiative should emphasize funding for interventional studies to compare use of physical activity interventions in place of pills and procedures, as well as studies focused on clinically relevant behavior change and on sustaining lifelong physical activity habits. 

Finally, the ACSM Board of Trustees has established an EIM governance board to guide and work closely with our new vice president of EIM, Robyn Stuhr, M.A., ACSM-RCEP. Robyn is a longtime member of ACSM who brings more than 30 years of clinical and leadership experience in health care, including sports medicine, health promotion, business and occupational health, and cardiac rehabilitation. She is positioned to be the perfect addition to the EIM team that will help achieve the lofty goals set for the next 10 years. We hope that all ACSM members will look for their niche in the EIM program and contribute to its advancement at your local, state, national and international levels. 

For more information and to get involved with Exercise is Medicine, contact us at

Robert E. Sallis, M.D., FACSM, served as the 51st President of ACSM and chairs the Exercise is Medicine® Advisory Board. He originated the EIM concept and has been its leading advocate from the beginning. Dr. Sallis earned an M.D. from Texas A&M University and completed his residency in family medicine at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana, California. He has continued his medical career with Kaiser and now co-directs their sports medicine fellowship training program. Dr. Sallis is the founding editor-in-chief of ACSM's Current Sports Medicine Reports journal. Exercise Is Medicine® was launched in partnership with the American Medical Association and continues to grow as a global health initiative.