The Olympics Renew Debates About Adding Activity as a Vital Sign


Many people are capitalizing on the Olympic Games as a way to encourage more physical activity and sports participation, but researchers are taking it one step further. A new paper in the Lancet, U.S. and Australian scientists argue that exercise, or more specifically physical activity, should be designated as the fifth vital sign, along with blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiratory rate. The idea has merit, especially given the fact that fitness level is a strong predictor of morbidity and mortality. In fact, the World Health Organization freely acknowledges that physical inactivity kills more people worldwide than overweight and obesity. Shocking, but true…

I’ve been a huge proponent of adding fitness level or physical activity to a patient’s medical record, and there are many organizations working overtime to get doctors, and the medical establishment in general, more involved in the lifestyle behaviors of their patients. The American College of Sports Medicine started a program several years ago called “Exercise is Medicine,” and their principal objective is to get doctors to prescribe exercise as medicine. Anytime Fitness is a founding corporate partner of this initiative, and the good news is that, collectively, we’re getting traction. The authors of the Lancet article would clearly support this approach as well since they’re convinced that doctors can be staunch advocates for physical activity because they understand its numerous health benefits.

But this brings to mind one question: Is this really true?

I would argue that there are many doctors that mistakenly disregard the lifestyle behaviors of their patients (not to mention their own) and simply aren’t qualified to give out fitness advice, let alone recommendations in other areas of lifestyle management. This certainly isn’t true of all physicians, but when is the last time your doctor told you to do anything more than “get some more physical activity?” In my opinion, the more effective approach would be to educate doctors about local health professionals they can refer their patients to for more comprehensive programming.

What do you think? Can we get doctors on the health and wellness bandwagon or should we make physician referrals to other qualified experts stupid simple?

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