The amount you exercise may be just as an effective vital sign as weight and blood pressure, according to a new medical study, which Kaiser Permanente said proved the validity of keeping patients' exercise habits in their medical records.
Kaiser studied more than 1.7 million of their Southern California patients and found that two-thirds of them did not meet the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week. One third of these patients had zero minutes of exercise per week and another third had more than zero but less than the recommended amount. Kaiser research scientist Karen Coleman said that by regularly asking patients about exercise habits -- with the regularity they take peoples' temperature and pulse -- doctors could help develop a more effective treatment plan for each person.
Coleman also said that often, exercise can work as well if not better than prescription medications; especially for ailments such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
“The insulin effect of exercise,” she explained, adding that working out actually clears blood sugar from the body and can be a great help to keeping diabetes under control.
In addition to health benefits for the patients, exercise could reap financial savings for medical firms and patients alike.
“If we get people to be more physically active we could substantially reduce health care costs,” said Coleman.
The Kaiser study found that many of their habitually inactive patients were older or obese, people with chronic health conditions or ethnic minorities; these are some of the demographics which could benefit the most from regular exercise. Many elderly people, especially women, have varying degrees of osteoperosis and exercise can actually help make bones stronger.
Coleman said that once health care professionals are aware of a patient's exercise habits, they are able to better counsel them on ways to incorporate exercise into every day life. Many of her health care suggestions involve a bit of multi-tasking: If you're going to sit in front of the TV, Coleman suggests doing sit-ups or arm curls while you watch your favorite shows. If you're looking for a parking spot, don't spend 10 minutes looking for a spot but park far away from where you're going and make use of the extra leg work.
For moms who take their kids to soccer practice or games, Coleman suggests that instead of sitting on the sidelines gossiping with friends, you should take that talk on the road and walk laps around the field while you catch up on life.
This study is part of a larger health initiative called Exercise is Medicine, which aims "to make physical activity and exercise a standard part of a global disease prevention and treatment medical paradigm." Kaiser is part of the group of health professionals that support the concept that physical activity is a key portion of improving patients' overall health and reducing long-term healthcare costs.