Fit Doctors More Likely to Encourage Patients to Exercise

DENVER – When it comes to exercise, physicians preach what they practice. According to research presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 58th Annual Meeting and 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®, active, healthy medical students are more likely to prescribe physical activity in their future practices.

From 2005 to 2010, a research team led by Felipe Lobelo, M.D., Ph.D., assessed objective markers of cardiometabolic health, including cardiorespiratory fitness and attitudes on physical activity counseling, in 577 freshman medical students in Colombia. Eighty percent of students reported believing physical activity counseling to be highly relevant in their future clinical practice.

Interestingly, many of the students who said exercise counseling was highly relevant were fit themselves. They were 1.7 times more likely to exhibit healthy levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and 3.2 times more likely to have normal triglycerides levels than their peers who don’t believe physical activity counseling will be relevant. Students who were healthy, met the current U.S. physical activity guidelines and had normal cholesterol levels were also more likely to strongly agree with the concept that an active doctor’s exercise counseling will be more credible and motivating to patients.

“I’m a strong believer in doctors practicing what they preach, and I think this study illustrates the concept perfectly because it’s based on doctors’ objective markers of health,” said Lobelo, a health scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Physicians must set the example of physical activity and health for their patients.”

In the study, students’ health and fitness were measured by waist circumference, body mass index, fasting glucose levels and lipid profiles, in addition to the 20-meter shuttle run test. Attitudes toward physical activity counseling were gauged through students’ answers to “How relevant do you think it will be in your future medical practice to counsel your patients on physical activity?” and “I will have the ability to counsel my patients more credibly and effectively if I am physically active.”

“Previous evidence indicates that nearly two-thirds of patients would be more willing to become physically active if their doctors advise it, and these patients find an active, healthy doctor’s advice more credible and motivating,” said Lobelo. “It is critical for current and future doctors to understand the public health importance of providing physical activity counseling to every patient.”

Physical activity counseling and prescription by health care providers is a key component of Exercise is Medicine, a signature initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine. Individuals looking to start the conversation with a doctor can visit the Exercise is Medicine website for free resources.


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 45,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine. Research highlighted in this news release has been presented at a professional meeting but has not been peer-reviewed.