Between seeing patients all day, studying for board certification exams, and slaving away in electronic health systems — not to mention personal and family responsibilities — it is often difficult to fit in any time for yourself. However, what if setting aside some time for exercise can actually make you a more effective and confident physician?

This concept was studied more than 10 years ago and reported in an article that found that although a health intervention program targeted for residents did not necessarily improve physician fitness and energy expenditure over time, it was successful in improving physical activity behavior/stage of change, as well as physical activity counseling behavior and attitudes toward their patients.

The intervention was beneficial in increasing the number of resident physicians who moved from the pre-contemplation stage to the contemplation stage on improving their fitness activity at first and second follow-up (P=.0034 and P=.024, respectively). In addition, resident physicians saw an increase in their confidence to counsel patients (P=.01), as well as in their perceived success (P=.03) to do so.1

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Further, studies have shown that improving a physician’s physical health not only provides personal benefit, it also influences his or her patients’ efforts to do the same. In a study by Oberg and Frank, patients were found to be more likely to benefit from more efficient and effective health promotion counseling from physicians who adopt healthier lifestyles.2 

The authors explain that “the majority of people report that their physicians are the primary source of information for adopting healthier lifestyle choices and are more likely to adopt a healthier behavior when their physicians recommends it.” Physicians have also reported difficulty counseling patients on behaviors that they do not practice themselves, thereby decreasing the effectiveness of their interventions.2

A study published by Morishita et al looked at the effects of physicians’ own physical activity on exercise counseling for patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). The researchers found a significant association between the CKD primary care physicians’ exercise recommendations and the frequency of their own exercise regimens (P <.001); however, these findings did not relate to age, specialty, workplace setting, or exercise intensity.3

It is no secret that exercising helps to reduce stress and improves physical health. However, the next time you counsel your patients on ramping up their exercise frequency, perhaps it is best to “practice what you preach,” both for your benefit and theirs.


  1. Rogers LQ, Gutin B, Humphries MC, et al.  A physician fitness program: enhancing the physician as an “exercise” role model for patientsTeach Learn Med. 2005;17(1):27-35.
  2. Oberg EB, Frank E. Physicians’ health practices strongly influence patient health practicesJ R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2009;39(4):290-291.
  3. Morishita Y, Numata A, Miki A, et al. Primary care physicians’ own exercise habits influence exercise counseling for patients with chronic kidney disease: a cross-sectional study.” BMC Nephrology. 2014;15:48.

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