An obligation for primary care physicians to prescribe physical activity to sedentary patients to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions

Mayo Clin Proc. 2002 Feb;77(2):165-73. doi: 10.4065/77.2.165.


Physical inactivity increases the risk of many chronic disorders. Numerous studies have convincingly demonstrated that undertaking and maintaining moderate levels of physical activity (eg, brisk walking 3 hours a week) greatly reduces the incidence of developing many chronic health conditions, most notably type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and many types of cancers. However, the underlying mechanistic details of how physical activity confers such protective effects are not well understood and consequently constitute an active area of research. Although changing an individual's ingrained behavior is commonly perceived to be difficult, encouraging evidence suggests that intensive and repeated counseling by health care professionals can cause patients to become more physically active. Therefore, counseling patients to undertake physical activity to prevent chronic health conditions becomes a primary prevention modality. This article summarizes the vast epidemiologic and biochemical evidence supporting the many beneficial health implications of undertaking moderate physical activity and provides a rationale for incorporating physical activity counseling as part of routine practice in the primary care setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease* / epidemiology
  • Counseling / methods*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Exercise Therapy* / methods
  • Exercise Therapy* / standards
  • Family Practice / organization & administration*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Style*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Physician's Role*
  • Prescriptions*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology