Evidence on the health benefits of exercise abounds. Despite that, exercise is discussed in fewer than 40 percent of doctors' exams in the United States, and that needs to change, a team of researchers including Stanford's Kathy Berra, MSN, NP-BC, wrote last week in a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Berra is affiliated with the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
"The lack of physical activity counseling in clinical settings represents a lost opportunity to improve the health and well-being of patients, and with minimal cost," the team wrote.
It can be as easy as having a medical assistant ask a patient if he or she exercises while measuring blood pressure, temperature and weight, Berra told me. Physicians or nurses can then follow up and offer congratulations for a job well done or offer suggestions to incorporate or improve exercise regimes, she said.
"It shows the patient you are really interested in them doing well, interested as much in activity as in giving them another pill," she said.
Asking the patients to keep and exercise record can also be very effective, the researchers write. Health-care providers should then ask to see it on subsequent visits. "There's a lot of competition for time during office visits, but it doesn't have to take a long time," Berra said.
The key is keeping the tone motivational and expressing genuine interest, she said. Clinicians can also offer a list of helpful apps or refer patients to a community gym or exercise program, they researchers wrote.
Berra said she added her voice to a nationwide chorus calling for health-care providers to get more involved in exercise advocacy.