Background: Physical activity offers major health benefits and counselling for it should be integrated into the medical consultation. Based on the literature, the personal health behaviour of the physician (including physical activity) is associated with his/her approach to counselling patients. Our hypothesis is that family doctors (FD) in Estonia are physically active and their recommendation to counsel patients with chronic diseases to use physical activity is high. The study was also interested in how FDs value physical activity among other important determinants of a healthy lifestyle, e.g. nutrition, non-consumption of alcohol, and non-smoking.
Methods: Physicians on the electronic list were contacted by e-mail and sent a questionnaire. The first part assessed physical activity by the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) short form. Self-reported physical activity during one week was calculated as total physical activity in minutes per week (MET min/week). The second part of the questionnaire included questions about the counselling of patients with chronic disease concerning their physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. The study focused on female FDs because 95% of the FDs in Estonia are women and to avoid bias related to gender.
Results: 198 female FDs completed the questionnaire. 92% reported that they exercised over the past 7 days to a moderate or high level of physical activity. Analysis revealed no statistically significant relationship between the level of physical activity and general characteristics (age, living area, body mass index [BMI], time spent sitting). FDs reported that patients with heart problems, diabetes, and obesity seek their advice on physical activity more often than patients with depression. Over 94% of the FDs claimed that they counsel their patients with chronic diseases about exercising. According to the FDs' reports, the most important topic in counselling patients for a healthy lifestyle was physical activity.
Conclusion: This study showed that female FDs are physically active. The level of physical activity is not related to their age, BMI, living area, or time spent sitting. Also, FDs reported that promotion of physical activity is part of their everyday work.