It is a medical prescription that costs nothing, and filling it can battle many life-threatening afflictions, including diabetes, depression, cancer and heart disease. But a significant percentage of people in the world — an estimated 31 percent, according to the World Health Organization — aren't active enough to make a difference in their lives.
Coke is committed to changing that.
"At The Coca-Cola Company, we have an ongoing commitment to advance evidence-based science and underscore the importance of an active, healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Rhona Applebaum, chief scientific and regulatory officer at The Coca-Cola Company. “And there is irrefutable evidence that exercise truly is medicine, and that fitness extends both the quality and quantity of life. If every sector of society would collaborate to advance this proven remedy, the faster we could eradicate the global pandemic of physical inactivity and improve public health. That’s certainly a health outcome worth striving to achieve.”
The Right Thing to Do
"Our company has a long history of making people happy, and by encouraging them to live active, healthy lifestyles, we're contributing to their overall well-being. This is a huge part of our culture, so of course we believe in the importance of this initiative," says Celeste Bottorff, vice president of Living Well for Coca-Cola North America.
"I'm a living example that it works. The Exercise is Medicine team convinced me to give walking a try, so I did, and I'm proud to report I've lost 30 pounds," Bottorff says. "It changed my life. I learned that even if you can't work out for an hour, just do 10 minutes or even walk to the end of the street and back. They told me if I walked before I ate, I wouldn't be as hungry and I would eat less. They were right about that as well."
Sponsoring the exercise initiative is "the right thing to do," Bottorff says. "It's a very Coca-Cola thing to do to take a leadership role in helping people live healthier lives."
EIM is coordinated by the American College of Sports Medicine and includes thousands of participants that distribute and dispense guidelines for exercise as a front-line defense against chronic disease and mental health problems.
In the United States, the initiative has a presence on 200 college campuses nationwide and is recommended by 2,000 health care providers. Overseas, the initiative has spread to countries including Australia, Italy and Germany, and is also going strong in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
What the Research Says
According to research compiled by EIM, many studies have shown that 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, can have a huge impact on your life.
It can decrease the risk of death by 40 percent, reduce mortality, reduce the risk of recurrent breast cancer by about 50 percent, lower the risk of stroke by 27 percent and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by approximately 40 percent.
Dr. Robert Sallis, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana, Calif., who developed the initiative seven years ago, says he continues to be amazed at the life-changing transformations of patients who adopt the guidelines.
For example, a woman in her early seventies suffering from Parkinson's disease arrived in his office a few years ago using a walker and complaining of severe depression after several medications did nothing to improve her symptoms. Dr. Sallis paired her with a personal trainer. "She began walking on a treadmill three times a week, then they added light weights, then they added stretching," he says.
A month later the woman came to see him again. "She wasn't using the walker. She had makeup on. Her depression was gone. If this was because of a pill, she would have been on 60 Minutes,'' Sallis says.
Internationally, the initiative is managed by six regional centers that distribute pamphlets and guidelines to individual countries. "The message is exactly the same in every country," Sallis says. "Everyone in the world is in complete agreement. We all agree that we need 150 minutes of brisk exercise every week."
"You can't get five people in a room to agree on how to combat obesity," he laughs. But the beauty of prescribing exercise is that "a profound public health problem can be fixed with a simple solution."
That solution is well known to Robert Johnson, a 60-year-old public roads worker in Pennsylvania, who began exercising two years ago at EIM partner Anytime Fitness clubs after doctors prescribed exercise to his wife, Rhonda, who was battling stage four breast cancer. He wasn't in great shape himself. He weighed more than 300 pounds and suffered from high blood pressure, sleep apnea and shortness of breath.
"A set of stairs did me in," Johnson says.
The couple met with a personal trainer and began exercising three times a week.
"It hurt like hell," he says. But in 11 months, he dropped more than 100 pounds. His wife lost 40. After invasive surgery and chemotherapy, her breast cancer was in remission, but cancer later appeared in her hip bone. Doctors performed surgery to remove it, and she kept exercising.
"She's doing fantastic," Johnson says. "She has gotten stronger. She's just on the go. She has tons of energy. She feels she can do anything. It pulled her out of the doldrums of cancer."
Johnson feels pretty good too. "The people at Anytime told me that you can change your life at any age," he says. "I'm a volunteer fireman, and I can do rings around the 20-year-olds now."
The Importance of The Coca-Cola Company's Sponsorship
Without corporate sponsors such as Coke and Anytime Fitness clubs, Exercise is Medicine would not be able to reach the worldwide population it now serves.
"Their belief and promotion of EIM have been invaluable," says Jim Whitehead, executive director of the American College of Sports Medicine.
"Exercise is Medicine is extremely grateful to have corporate sponsors such as our first founding partner, The Coca-Cola Company," he says. If not for them, "EIM would not have been able to touch the public to the extent that it has."