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The research found that physically fit doctors were more likely to push for physical activity in patients than inactive doctors.
Because people often take their doctor's advice seriously, "these findings suggest that improving health care providers' physical activity levels may be an easy way to help reduce physical inactivity among the general population," Isabel Garcia de Quevedo, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an American Heart Association news release.
The study was to be presented Friday at a meeting of the American Heart Association in New Orleans. Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The research team analyzed the findings of 28 previous studies on health care providers' physical activity and the exercise counseling they gave to patients. The review revealed that physically active health care providers were much more likely to advise their patients to get daily exercise.
Some of the studies found that fit, active doctors were two to five times more likely than inactive doctors to recommend exercise to their patients. Other studies found that programs to improve doctors' physical activity levels improved the doctor's confidence and ability to provide exercise advice to patients.
The researchers also discovered that medical school students who took part in a program to improve their lifestyle habits were 56 percent more likely than other medical students to provide patients with regular physical activity counseling.
"When [exercise] advice is coupled with a referral to community resources, it can be quite effective and this approach should be part of the public health solution to America's inactivity problem," study leader and co-author Dr. Felipe Lobelo, an epidemiologist with CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in the news release.
The American Heart Association and the CDC recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 22, 2013