Doctors issue call to action for clinicians to discuss exercise with patients

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Does your doctor ask you about your exercise habits when you’re getting your blood pressure taken?

Researchers and clinicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the University of Central Florida want doctors to make counseling on physical activity part of routine clinical practice.

In a viewpoint article published online Thursday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors from the three medical centers issued a call to action for physicians to make physical activity a vital sign during clinical visits — checked as routinely as other vital signs like blood pressure and temperature.

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JoAnn Manson, chief of preventative medicine at Brigham and Women’s and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is one of the authors of the article. She and her co-authors believe there is compelling evidence that health professionals have the opportunity to influence the adoption of healthy lifestyle practices.

“The studies are showing that only about one third of patients are asked about physical activity or even brought up as a priority,’’ Manson said. “So I think that it is time to make this a priority in clinical practice because it is so important to health. Health care costs are spiraling out of control, there are so many preventable diseases in the U.S. and throughout the world. And many of them can be reduced — many of these chronic diseases can be reduced or prevented by regular physical activity.’’

Manson said she and her colleagues believe there are ways to integrate the counseling into clinical practice without any appreciable lengthening of a patient visit. The strategies put forward by Manson and the authors of the article include having the clinician or a member of their medical team encourage patients to use a pedometer to keep track of their daily physical activity and write prescriptions for an agreed-upon daily physical activity.

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One of the most important prescriptions Manson said a patient could receive would be one for walking 30 minutes a day.

The hope is that clinicians will leverage the opportunity they have to make a difference in the lives of their patients through setting physical activity as a priority for health, Manson said.

“Physicians and other healthcare professionals are considered trusted sources of health-related information, and they can help patients set priorities to improve their health,’’ Manson said. “I think that that’s a really important point. It’s a different, maybe, to read in the newspaper that physical activity has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease or of diabetes in a research study than to hear from our own health care provider it is important that you make exercise and physical activity a priority in your life to improve your own health.’’

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