Active Docs Give Exercise Advice More Freely


A more active physician may make for more active patients, or at least one who knows they should be, a meta-analysis suggested.

Physically-active physicians were up to five times more likely to counsel their patients about exercise, Isabel Garcia de Quevedo, MSPH, and Felipe Lobelo, MD, PhD, both of the CDC in Atlanta, found.

Active healthcare providers also provided those reminders more frequently, the researchers reported at the American Heart Association Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism meeting in New Orleans.

“If doctors want to talk the talk, they’ve got to walk the walk, frankly. Patients really find you more credible if you have an enthusiasm for physical activity,” Nieca Goldberg, MD, director of the NYU Center for Women’s Health in New York City, said in a statement as an AHA spokesperson.

“We need to engage everyone in regular physical activity,” agreed the organization’s president, Donna Arnett, PhD, MSPH, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Staying active has clear health benefits for weight, blood pressure, and even stress, she pointed out in an interview with MedPage Today.

“Role modeling physical activity for your patients whether you’re a physician or nurse or other healthcare provider provides a positive benefit for both you and the patient,” she said.

The researchers combed through the literature for all studies from 1979 through 2012 that compared healthcare providers’ typically self-reported physical activity habits or fitness to their practice in counseling patients.

All but one of the 24 observational studies they found did show a significant effect of healthcare providers own physical activity or fitness level and whatever physical activity counseling behavior was assessed.

Most of the studies (15) found the association among physicians, but it was also seen in nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers, as well as among medical and nursing students.

The observational studies from which results could be pooled showed that physician physical activity independently predicted physical activity counseling with odds ratios of 1.1 up to 5.72 (P<0.05).

Perceived frequency of counseling was also significantly elevated among physically active healthcare providers.

Among four interventional studies also found in the review, one showed a benefit of improving medical students’ exercise habits, with a 56% increased odds of counseling patients on the same topic (P=0.03).

All but three of the 24 observational studies were from the U.S.

“More research is needed in particular among nonphysician populations and in low-to-middle income countries where the burden of inactivity is greatest,” the researchers acknowledged.


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