Doctors' Fitness: Should Doctors Set An Example for Patients?

06/15/2011 05:59 pm ET | Updated Aug 15, 2011

Doctors have changed from the 1950s -- apparently in some very good ways, if you believe this commercial.

You'll still find a few doctors who smoke, as do some nurses and other health care providers. But thankfully, most set a good example for their patients by not making room in their lives for this health-wrecking habit.

You're still likely, however, to find many doctors who don't live other elements of the healthy lifestyle that they urge their patients to adopt. Some doctors are overweight and it's common for physicians to seldom make time to exercise. It's also extremely easy to find doctors who survive on fast food and junk food as they race through their busy schedules.

Sure, the old saying admonishes physicians to "heal thyself." But those who also work to keep themselves healthy may be better doctors to their patients. In new research that was slated for presentation at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting, researchers measured whether medical students' attitudes and behaviors about exercise might benefit their future patients.

Eighty percent of the students told the researchers that they thought counseling patients on physical activity would be an important part of their future medical practice. The students who thought exercise counseling was important were 70 percent more likely to have a healthy level of fitness and more than three times more likely to have normal triglyceride levels.

According to the lead researcher, earlier research has found that almost two-thirds of patients would be more interested in being physically active if their doctors recommend it -- and they're more likely to believe the advice of a doctor who seems active and healthy.

Most doctors could find plenty of reasons why they don't have time or interest for exercise: They work long hours, are under stress and have a lot of obligations. Then again, many of their patients can make the same excuses.

If we're to get America back into shape and steered away from chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, we all have to move our bodies more. Doctors are going to have to lace up their workout shoes and do their part, too.

The more messages that inspire the public to hop on a bike, hit the gym or go for a walk, the better. If patients need these talks to come from fit and active doctors, then the nation's physicians have an obligation to look the part.