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Doctors Finally Advising Patients to Exercise

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2012

The number of doctors in the US telling patients to get physically active has increased in the past decade. New research shows that, in 2010 alone, one in three patients who visited a physician or other health professional had been told to start or maintain physical activity or exercise.
Patricia Barnes and Charlotte Schoenborn (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA) write, "Trends over the past 10 years suggest that the medical community is increasing its efforts to recommend participation in exercise and other physical activity that research has shown to be associated with substantial health benefits." "Still, the prevalence of receiving this advice remains well below one-half of US adults and varies substantially across population subgroups."

In 2000, 22.6% of adults visiting their physician were advised to exercise, and this percentage increased to 32.4% in 2010. Physicians also appear to be targeting the very elderly, asking them to get active like their younger counterparts. In 2000, 15.3% of adults 85 years of age and older were advised to start or maintain some type of physical activity, whereas nearly 30% were told to be more active in 2010. More than 40% of adults aged 45 to 64 years old and 65 to 74 years old were advised to exercise in 2010.

The researchers also addressed whether a physician's advice to exercise varied by chronic disease conditions. In 2000, they note that 34.1% of adults with high blood pressure were advised to exercise, but this percentage increased to 44.2% in 2010. The percentage of adults with cardiovascular disease advised to exercise increased from 32.5% in 2000 to 41.2% in 2010. Diabetics, however, were more likely than adults with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer to receive exercise orders from their physician: in 2000, 47.7% of diabetic patients were advised to exercise, and this percentage increased in 2010 to 56.3%. In contrast, just 35.8% of adults with cancer were advised to exercise in 2010.

Finally, the data showed that physicians appear to be targeting obese and overweight patients. The most recent survey showed that 30.5% of overweight and 46.9% of obese patients were advised to exercise, percentages that were up from 21.9% and 34.8%, respectively, in 2000. In 2010, just 22.6% of adults at a healthy weight were advised to start an exercise program. 

Source:, February 8, 2012 National Center for Health Statistics data brief. Barnes PM, Schoenborn CA. Trends in adults receiving a recommendation for exercise or other physical activity from a physician or other health professional. NCHS Data Brief, 86, February 2012.

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