Objective: Regular physical activity can reduce the incidence and prevalence of many chronic diseases. A vast majority of Americans cite their physician as their primary source of information regarding healthy lifestyle decisions. This study was designed to obtain information about the personal exercise behavior and counseling practices of primary care physicians, to evaluate the relationship between their personal and professional exercise practices, and to determine whether physician specialty is associated with these practices.
Design: A cross-sectional survey was mailed to a randomly selected sample of primary care physicians in the United States. A questionnaire was used to obtain detailed information on the personal exercise habits, counseling practices, and barriers to counseling of these physicians, regarding both aerobic exercise and strength training.
Participants: 298 primary care physicians, comprising 84 family practitioners, 79 pediatricians, 58 geriatricians, and 77 internists.
Main outcome measures: Frequency of physician exercise, exercise counseling, and relationship between these practices.
Results: Physicians who perform aerobic exercise regularly are more likely to counsel their patients on the benefits of these exercises, as are physicians who perform strength training. Pediatricians and geriatricians counsel fewer patients about aerobic exercise than family practitioners and internists. Counseling regarding strength training is less common in all physician groups surveyed, and lowest among pediatricians, of whom 50% did not advise these exercises for any of their patients. Inadequate time was noted by 61% and inadequate knowledge and/or experience by 16% of respondents as the major barriers to counseling regarding aerobic exercise.
Conclusion: Physicians who exercise are more likely to counsel their patients to exercise. Inadequate time and knowledge/experience regarding exercise are the most common barriers to counseling identified. These findings suggest strategies that might increase physician exercise counseling behavior.