Nobel Peace Prize-winning physician Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

In the context of promoting a healthy lifestyle and routine to patients, this inspirational advice echoes perfectly the importance of doctors “walking the talk” – portraying a “healthy role model” themselves, on top of the health advice and recommendations they give to their patients during consultation.

GPs are at a central position to promote the fitness culture and healthy lifestyle to patients due to their trusted and respected status in the society. However, expecting patients to make changes in their lives should begin with doctors themselves being committed, first, to a healthy lifestyle in order to set a good example. The impression that patients get during a visit to the GP’s office can actually go a long way in encouraging them to develop the same healthy habits in their daily lives.

Conducting medical appointments standing up

A number of studies regarding the dangers of prolonged sitting were conducted by Dr James Levine at the Mayo Clinic in the United States. Weight gain, heart disease and an increased risk of death by almost 50% are among the risks that have been well documented, according to research. Because of this, an increasing number of people have opted to use a standing desk while working, including those in the medical profession.

South Australian Dr Peter Moore started working at a standing desk over 20 years ago. He had initially built his own standing desk, but needed something “portable” after moving to a different medical practice, which required him to change consulting rooms once or twice a day.

To facilitate this purpose, he developed Zestdesk – an innovative portable miniature desk, which can be assembled on top of an ordinary desk. This is an initiative that could benefit doctors who use those desks while working, and in a way, serves as a good example to patients, too.

Medical consultation can be more than just a session for GPs to provide verbal medical advice and recommendations. It is in fact an opportunity for GPs to practically demonstrate healthy habits to their patients. Conducting a medical appointment standing up, for instance, is one way of doing this.

It may seem a little unusual at first – but, this can actually lead to a conversation about the importance of avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. “People ask ‘why are you standing up’, and it gets a conversation rolling: “Did you know that being sedentary all day doubles your risk of diabetes?’” points out Dr Andrew Boyd, an activity champion at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RGCP). “It’s just a simple thing, you can link those things and get someone when they’re in the frame of mind. They’re thinking about their health,” he adds.

Leading by example

Whether or not a GP adopts a healthy lifestyle and behaviour can actually have an impact on how they counsel patients. Dr Boyd said that some doctors are worried about appearing hypocritical by lecturing their patients to take more exercise when they themselves are not physically active. In addition, a recent Johns Hopkins study found that normal weight doctors are more likely to counsel their patients about obesity, body mass index (BMI), and weight loss than those who are themselves overweight.

As featured in the March – April 2011 issue of Family Practice Management, the Americans in Motion-Healthy Interventions (AIM-HI) research study, conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) National Research Network and the AAFP Americans In Motion program has outlined a number of strategies to improve the personal fitness levels of clinicians and office staff, as well as to promote fitness to patients. One of the strategies involves creating a healthy office; this is because patients perceive physicians who practice healthy personal behaviours as more credible and better able to motivate them to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Dr Zoe Williams, an activity advisor to the RCGP, suggested that some seats in GP waiting rooms should be replaced with exercise bikes. This suggestion was welcomed by the charity UK Active, and a spokesman for the organisation expressed that GPs were “trusted, they’re believed – so, if they model good behaviour, that’s a good thing.” MIMS

Read more:
Prescriptions going green: Doctors giving lifestyle advice to patients
1 hour of exercise cuts risk of mortality
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