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Physicians Need to Ask Patients About Time Spent Exercising

Update Date: Jan 07, 2013 08:22 AM EST

While currently, doctors asking for the details of number of hours their patient stays active is not a common practice, a movement is stirring to change that.

A new national survey has indicated that only one-third of Americans have their doctors asking them about their physical activity or prescribing it.

Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest nonprofit health insurance plans, made a big push a few years ago to get its Southern California doctors to ask patients about exercise, according to a report in San Francisco Chronicle.

Ever since that time, Kaiser expanded the program across California and to several other states.

How it works is that during routine health checkups, a nurse or medical assistant asks the patient as to how often he/she exercises and for what duration. So the number of minutes spent on physical activity is also posted along with other vitals at the top the medical chart and the doctor sees that among other things.

"All we ask our physicians to do is to make a comment on it, like, 'Hey, good job,' or 'I noticed today that your blood pressure is too high and you're not doing any exercise. There's a connection there. We really need to start you walking 30 minutes a day,'" said Dr. Robert Sallis, a Kaiser doctor who developed the vital sign idea as part of a larger initiative by doctors groups.

He also added that doctors at Kaiser often prescribe exercise first, instead of medication; it works too for many patients.

This is difficult, because a study which looked at the first year of the effort made by Kaiser revealed that more than one-third of patients reportedly never exercised.

The program at Kaiser began three years ago, after guidelines by the government recommended at least two and a half hours of moderately vigorous exercise every week. According to the report, this includes anything that makes you breathe harder than usual for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.

An understanding of how to get people to be more active is a significant step in reducing overall medical costs, Dr. William Dietz, an obesity expert who retired last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, according to the report.

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