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What made a sports medicine specialist interested in ‘chronic diseases’?‘This is an exercise program for treatment, so doctors should prescribe it’
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2017.07.27 09:01
  • Updated 2017.08.01 14:05
  • comments 0

There is an expert who proposes “exercise” as a solution to reduce the management costs of chronic diseases, which have been surging because of population aging. Making such a proposal in the middle of the Korean medical community, which has a strong perception that “exercise is not medical treatment,” is Professor Kim Jin-gu김진구, an orthopedist at Konkuk University Medical Center (KUMC)건국대병원.

Professor Kim pointed out that if you teach patients with chronic diseases a proper way to exercise, not only can it help to treat complex chronic diseases but to prevent them as well. As the workout regimes given to patients with chronic diseases are not simple exercises but programs for treatment based on sports medicine, however, it must take the form of doctors making a prescription for patients, Kim emphasized.

Of various areas in orthopedic department, Professor Kim is known as a sports medicine specialist. Among some famous sports stars who received his treatments are Olympic gold medalist speed skater Lee Sang-hwa, soccer players Ahn Jung-hwan and Seol Ki-hyun, and baseball player Hong Seung-heun.

What made Professor Kim, a recognized authority in sports medicine with famous athletes coming to him for treatment, interested in “chronic diseases” suddenly?

Professor Kim Jin-gu of Konkuk University Medical Center explains why he wants to establish the Korean chapter of “Exercise Is Medicine (EIM)” movement, during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

‘How come there are no places for patients to exercise?’

Professor Kim, a sports medicine expert, had maintained his interest in treating diseases through exercise. It was natural for him to become interested in the Exercise Is Medicine (EIM) movement, which has been spreading globally since it began in the United States in 2007. EIM is treating patients with various therapies based on sports medicine and is being actively staged in advanced countries like the U. S., Germany, and Canada.

Some medical professionals show negative responses to the EIM movement, thinking it as just as a part of healthcare service. However, EIM is different from healthcare service because it makes various exercise treatment programs by an orthodox medicine called sports medicine, and it is also on the basis of doctors’ diagnosis and prescription when they apply it to patients.

EIM currently has base centers in seven countries and operates branch offices in 43 nations. Professor Kim is now pushing to establish EIM Korea. Kim concluded that he could no longer neglect the current situation where patients who need to exercise can’t do so.

“Most diseases can be prevented with exercise. However, in Korea, there is no place to teach proper exercise to patients. Doctors just say, ‘Exercise is important, you should work out,’ but that’s all there is to it,” Kim said. “I have begun this movement because I believe exercise can prevent diseases and reduce expensive healthcare costs.”

He noted that Koreans still have a perception that exercise is not treatment. “Korea’s rehabilitation treatments are on the lines of physical therapy or massage but not a concept that helps patients exercise actively. Advanced countries are using exercise to prevent diseases, but in Korea, we don’t even think exercise is a part of medical science,” he said.

Assembled a strong group of experts in just six months

Kim, who is working to establish EIM Korea, has already gathered several reliable companions. Although Kim started the movement for EIM Korea, several other experts had been working for this idea in their respective fields

"The beginning of establishing an EIM chapter is to form a community that accepts the EIM vision and acts based on it. The reason the community should include government employees and national university hospital officials is to make it a non-profit organization and clarify where the responsibility lies,” Kim said.

“I first contacted EIM at the end of last year. I think it will take about five years to set up a branch office in Korea,” Professor Kim went on to say. “There were already practitioners who considered introducing it individually, and professors who had received a training program overseas. Although most Koreans do not know what EIM is, we will be able to gather more than 100 experts in six months once we declare a will to establish a local chapter and push for it in earnest.”

Success depends on education

Professor Kim thinks it necessary to cultivate expert workforce, including doctors and exercise specialists who understand EIM, for the successful introduction of the new movement in Korea. So he plans to work out a training program, in which Konkuk University Sports Medicine Center plays a central role.

"It is not too much if I say half of success depends on education," Kim said. "We should turn young graduates of athletic colleges into EIM experts, and help doctors graft EIM programs to treatment. I will make Konkuk University Hospital the center of educating these people."

Professor Kim noted that there are already plenty of educational programs and bases to develop a variety of people to EIM experts. The number of research papers alone totals several thousand. The role of the academic community is to evaluate these theses and inject them into people's lives. “We will do that job.''

Conceptual shift is key to EIM’s introduction

Another thing Kim emphasizes for introducing the EIM is "conceptual change." People need to believe that exercise will be able to treat diseases.

"Shift of perception toward EIM is important. Everyone, including doctors, sports experts, and public healthcare centers, needs to realize ‘exercise is medicine.’ In Korea, many people think that exercise is something young people do to become healthier, but they must understand that this is only a small part of what an exercise can offer.”

Professor Kim said he is preparing seminars and symposiums to promote the importance of exercise to improve the quality of life for the patients with chronic disease. “I am trying to broaden their perception and raise public awareness. I hope that people do not focus on Kim Jin-koo or Konkuk University Hospital, but that EIM is necessary for Korea. It’s something someone must do,” he emphasized.

"We need to take treatments out of small hospitals and bring it to space where patients and ordinary people exist. Since these exercise programs are prescribed by the doctors, hospitals should be at the center. But the hospital should draw a larger picture in which patients can promote their health in a familiar setting with programs prescribed by doctors,” Kim said.

"There are many fitness centers in our country, and people are exercising with diverse programs. However, patients with chronic diseases cannot follow the programs provided by fitness centers,” Professor Kim said. “Our ultimate goal is to create an environment where all fitness centers in Korea can provide a certified exercise therapy program for treatment."


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