Healthy Doctors Better Able to Discuss Healthy Lifestyles with Patients

Apr 3, 2012, 2:30 PM

New research shows that physicians who exercise and don’t smoke are much more likely to recommend healthy lifestyle changes to their patients than their smoking or non-exercising colleagues.

Researchers surveyed 1,000 primary care physicians and found that the ones who exercised at least once a week or who didn’t smoke were twice as likely to recommend five key lifestyle changes to patients suffering from hypertension: eating a healthy diet, reducing their salt intake, reaching or maintaining a healthy weight, limiting their use of alcohol and exercising regularly.

According to an article in American Medical News, the findings were presented at a March 14 meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA). “Practicing what we preach is important,” Jo Marie Reilly, MD, an associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, is quoted saying. “Physicians are just more aware and better able to counsel patients if they take care of themselves.”

“Physicians who are healthier themselves are more apt to counsel patients about healthy lifestyle and diet,” agrees Ralph Sacco, MD, immediate past president of AHA and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “They are more educated, more personally invested in personal health and therefore, better health advocates for their patients.”

Reilly notes that physicians who are not themselves physically fit can still recommend a healthy lifestyle to their patients, using their own experiences to relate to patients’ struggles. “It’s really important that we take that time to counsel patients about how their health habits influence their lives at each visit, and that we look at that as important as any medication,” she says.

What do you think? Does your doctor discuss healthy lifestyles with you? If you’re a health care provider, do you raise the subject with your patients? Register below to leave a comment.

Read a related blog post by Rashawn Ray, PhD, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.