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Physical Activity Levels and Counseling Practices of U.S. Medical Students


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 3 - p 413-421
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31815ff399
CLINICAL SCIENCES: Clinically Relevant

Introduction: Some literature shows a positive relationship between physicians' personal physical activity (PA) levels and physicians' encouraging patients' PA, though it remains unclear how this evolves during medical training. In this paper, we describe U.S. medical students' PA levels and factors predicting relevance and frequency of their PA counseling of patients.

Methods: This is a prospective survey of a representative sample of U.S. medical students from 16 schools (N = 2316) designed to determine health-related attitudes and practices. Student's PA levels were assessed using a Godin exercise questionnaire. An 80.3% (N = 1658) response rate was achieved during 4 yr.

Results: More than half (61%) of U.S. medical students adhered to CDC PA recommendations. This rate was relatively stable during the 4 yr of medical training. Of those who reported a lot of stress in the last 12 months or 2 wk, fewer than 60% complied with the CDC exercise recommendations, compared with at least 80% who reported almost no stress. Frequency of PA counseling of patients was consistently related to personal PA practices. The percent of students perceiving that PA counseling would be highly relevant to their practices decreased during the 4 yr of medical school, from 69 to 53% (P < 0.01).

Discussion: Among U.S. medical students, personal PA levels are higher than those of age-matched peers in the general population, are maintained throughout medical school, and are correlated with frequency of PA counseling of their patients. Promotion of adequate PA habits during medical education may be an important step to improve the PA preventive counseling that future clinicians provide.

1Department of Health Care and Epidemiology and Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare of British Columbia, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, CANADA; 2Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA; 3Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC; and 4Universidad de los Andes, School of Medicine, Bogota, COLOMBIA

Address for correspondence: Erica Frank, M.D., M.P.H., University of British Columbia, Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, 5804 Fairview Avenue, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z3; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2007.

Accepted for publication October 2007.

©2008The American College of Sports Medicine