When your doctor hands you a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug or pain reliever, you dutifully take it to the pharmacy to be filled. Why wouldn’t you? The medication will likely make you feel better.

But when your doctor tells you exercising regularly will make you feel better too, that it will make your joints more limber, that it can help you sleep better at night, feel better all day and, specifically, that it will help ease your arthritis pain – what action do you take? Do you willingly stop at a gym on your way home and sign up for three classes per week? Do you drop by the mall and pick up a new pair of walking shoes? Or do you go home and continue life as usual?

Doctors are looking to be more persuasive when they recommend exercise, so they are pulling out their prescription pads. A fitness prescription gives you directions for the activities you need to perform, how long and intensely to do them and how to progress to the next level.

The trend was kick-started by a study of how rheumatologists communicate with their patients about exercise, and how that communications influences the patient’s exercise behavior. Researchers found that talking about exercise was four times more likely to happen if the doctor started the discussion. And doctors who initiated the exercise discussion were four times more likely to give the patient a referral to a physical therapist or an exercise program.

So at your next visit, don’t be surprised if the doctors hands you a prescription for a workout. If you don’t get one, first ask your doctor if it’s OK for you to start an exercise program, then ask for a list of specific exercises you should do.