CDC: Doctors Increasingly Prescribe Exercise

1 in 3 Adult Patients Advised by Their Doctor to Boost Physical Activity

By Matt McMillen
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 9, 2012 -- A new report from the CDC shows that more patients are getting prescriptions for exercise from their doctors.

In 2010, 1 in 3 adults who saw a doctor or other health care professional was advised to increase their physical activity as a means of maintaining or improving their health. That's a significant increase over 2000, when less than a quarter of consultations included such advice.

"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," states the report, from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

It's an important development, the report indicates, because patients listen to their doctors. According to a 2008 study, overweight patients were nearly five times more likely to exercise if their doctors counseled them to do so. They were even more likely to keep active if their doctor followed up with them after the initial prescription.

Exercise lowers the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression. Yet, according to government estimates, only 3 in 10 U.S. adults get the recommended amount of exercise each week.

Prescription Breakdown

According to the report, doctors and other health professionals most frequently prescribed exercise to their overweight and obese patients. Nearly half of obese patients received such advice in 2010, compared to less than a quarter of healthy-weight adults.

Although Hispanic patients showed the largest increase in exercise recommendations, increases were seen across all races and ethnic groups, the report states.

Almost 30% of adults aged 85 and older received exercise advice in 2010, a nearly two-fold increase over the 10 years covered by the report. However, the largest number of adults receiving prescriptions for physical activity were those aged 45 to 74. Adults younger than 25 received the fewest.

The same upward trend can be seen among patients with chronic diseases, particularly those with type 2 diabetes, half of whom received exercise counseling from their doctors. In 2010, a significantly greater number of patients with heart disease and stroke risk, high blood pressure, and cancer received exercise advice compared to 2000.

Despite the rise in the number of patients being advised to get and stay active, the authors of the report acknowledge that there is a long way to go before such advice reaches a sufficient number of people.

"The prevalence of receiving this advice remains well below one-half of U.S. adults and varies substantially across population subgroups," the authors write.


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SOURCES: Barnes, P. NCHS Data Brief, February 2012.Weidinger, K. Journal of Family Practice, June 2008.Health People 2020: "Physical Activity" Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Facts"

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