Physician, heal thyself

News flash: According to a recent report, physically fit doctors who practice what they preach are more likely to urge their patients to take up regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Not that it takes a rocket scientist to figure that out. But I want to share the results of this “groundbreaking” study with you anyway. Because they make a whole lot of common sense.

This group of researchers drew data from 24 observational studies. The subjects were healthcare providers–doctors, nurses, pharmacists, even nursing and medical students. And results showed that their own fitness habits had a dramatic influence on the fitness advice they gave to their patients.

Four of these studies showed that physically active doctors are two to five times more likely than their sedentary colleagues to encourage their patients to exercise.

Other studies showed that doctors who had improved their own fitness also dispensed exercise advice more confidently and efficiently. Meanwhile, medical students who were trained to improve their own habits were also more likely to talk to their patients about exercise during exams.

I have to say, this certainly speaks to my own experience as a doctor.

Being fit myself absolutely helps me to give better advice. I can relate to any injuries that may occur from being more active. I can also teach my patients how to prevent those injuries from occurring.

That’s why I often share my personal fitness stories with my patients… letting them know that I, too, used to hate exercising. And now? I can’t live without it. In fact, I’m writing this after having taken two boot camps this week.

I can barely move. But it feels GREAT.

Many of my patients wish to reach my level of fitness. And while I still have a long way to go, I simply tell them that if they exercise five days a week and follow my New Hamptons Health Miracle consistently…they can look and feel this way, too.

I didn’t make a pact with the devil to stay in shape. That’s really all there is to it.

The other thing to keep in mind is the generation gap. The older generation of physicians who were less likely to exercise–and who may have even smoked–are retiring now.

Like often begets like. And a new crop of doctors with a healthier set of habits are taking over. I’m pleased to count myself among them.

At the end of the day, physicians have to be positive role models. They can’t provide effective guidance otherwise. Because patients, at least in my experience, are much more likely to embrace health advice if their doctors look like they follow that advice themselves.

It’s okay to dislike making changes. That’s a part of human nature. But once new habits are formed, there’s no going back. (Though someone might want to tell that to my arms, which I can’t fully extend today.)

The bottom line: Just try it. You might be surprised at how much you end up liking it.

Healthcare providers as role models for physical activity. Circulation. 2013; 127: AP420.