In Getting Older Patients to Exercise, Study Finds that Rx is Empathy

Between 2002 and 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health examined communication between health care practitioners and their older adult patients on physical activity.

They also investigated how to inform community-based physicians about physical activity research and encourage them to communicate with patients on the topic.

Key Findings

  • Physicians are most likely to discuss physical activity with their patients in relation to a chronic illness, particularly hypertension, diabetes and arthritis. Illness transition times (such as when an illness worsens or a heart attack or stroke occurs) were particular triggers.

  • If physicians are caring and empathetic they do not have to be role models (i.e., good exercisers themselves) in order to counsel effectively, according to older adults.

  • The likelihood that a patient would discuss physical activity with his or her physician increased after placement of educational posters in examination rooms. Almost all patients who had this discussion were already exercising.