For better health, docs must talk to patients about exercise

While only about a quarter of American men and a third of American women are at a healthy weight, physicians talk to their patients about the need for exercise in only about 9 percent of office visits, according to Edward M. Phillips, M.D., and Helen Durkin, J.D., in an article in Medical Economics.

It's time for physicians to change that since physical activity is one of four modifiable lifestyle behaviors that are behind most chronic diseases, say Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, and Durkin, executive vice president of public policy at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Physicians must coach patients to exercise since physical activity is one of the most effective methods for ensuring wellness, and preventing and managing disease, they say. It's time for physicians to change their mindset.  Instead of a sole focus on treating illnesses, they must spend time with patients on prevention and health promotion, they argue. Physicians can take the following steps:

Set a good example and follow healthy lifestyle habits themselves.

Communicate with patients, understand the challenges they face and figure out what motivates them to change. This may involve teaming up with exercise specialists, health clubs, health coaches, behavior specialists or nutritionists.

Write an exercise prescription. Doctors cite time constraints as the most common reason for not counseling their patients on exercise, according to one study. But writing an exercise prescription is quick and doctors can find free resources from organizations such as Exercise is Medicine, they say.

Physicians can also help patients achieve better health outcomes by supporting behavior changes, using tools for self-care so they see results and adapting approaches so patients can discover what works for them, as FiercePracticeManagement reported earlier this week. It's estimated that 72 percent of American adults have at least one bad health behavior--smoking, drinking too much, not sleeping enough, not exercising or being obese--which substantially increases their risk of fair or poor health.

To learn more:
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