Work it out: Docs’ fitness level linked to patient counseling

Call it exercising your options: Physically fit physicians and other healthcare professionals are more likely than couch potatoes to counsel patients to adopt an active lifestyle, according to results presented March 22 at an American Heart Association (AHA) scientific session in New Orleans.

Felipe Lobelo, MD, PhD, and Isabel Garcia de Quevedo, MSPH, both of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, conducted a literature review to assess the association between healthcare providers’ physical activity habits and their efforts to instruct patients to engage in physical activities regularly. Such counseling is one of the objectives of the Healthy People 2020 campaign.

“When advice is coupled with a referral to community resources, it can be quite effective and this approach should be part of the public health solution to America’s inactivity problem,” Lobelo said in a release.

The researchers searched PubMed for articles published between 1979 and 2012 that included terms such as “attitudes,” “habits,” and “physical activity” and categorized them as either observational or interventional. They identified 196 articles, including 26 descriptive studies, 24 observational studies and four interventions. Most were from the U.S. and seven included nonphysician personnel such as nurses.

Twenty-three of the observational studies found a significant association between physicians’ personal physical activity habits or fitness level and counseling behaviors. Some studies reported that active physicians were two to five times more likely to advise their patients to exercise than physicians who were not active.   

Among the interventions, two targeted physicians with programs to increase their physical activity levels, which also led to improvements in patient counseling. One intervention that enrolled medical students also found a significant association between improved physical activity and counseling.

Lobelo and Garcia de Quevedo concluded that physicians’ physical activity habits independently predict counseling practices, and interventions to improve physicians’ fitness also improve patient counseling.

They presented the results at the AHA’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism scientific sessions.