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So, you walk your dog every day – does your doctor know?

Posted by on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in News, TIPs 2017.

Written by David Schlundt, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology

David Schlundt, Ph.D.

David Schlundt, Ph.D.

The more we study physical activity, the more we understand its impact on our health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. If you walk your dog for 10 minutes twice a day, you meet the CDC’s goal for moderate physical activity. Furthermore, one study showed that 150 minutes per week can add 3-4 years to your life – that’s 21-28 dog years!

What’s surprising about physical activity is how little systematic attention it gets in the health care setting. We know that controlling blood pressure can prevent heart attacks and strokes, and we are used to having our blood pressure measured at most medical visits. We know that overweight and obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems, and we willingly step on the scale at most visits. We know that an active lifestyle prevents these poor health outcomes, yet we are not systematically asked about activity when getting our vital signs taken.

The Vandy Reach program is about to change that. Funded by a 2017 Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) award, and based on work originally done by Kaiser Permanente in California, we plan to introduce two questions about physical activity into the process of taking vital signs:

  1. How many days per week do you usually do moderate (walking briskly) to strenuous (running, biking) physical activity?
  2. How many minutes do you usually perform physical activity?

These questions, when asked together, will provide an estimate of minutes/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. These two questions should add less than a minute to medical visits.

VandyReach_blog1This information will be beneficial for individual patients and for population health. Physicians, nurse practitioners and others will be able to review physical activity when they look at weight, blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Including activity as a vital sign in the electronic health record will allow the health care team to follow changes in your activity levels over time. For population health, there are many possibilities for using this information to improve health care and health outcomes, plan and evaluate health promotion campaigns and gain a better understand of the role activity plays in health outcomes.

For the dog walkers reading this, you can add dog walking to your answer when you are asked these two questions at an upcoming medical visit. If you say 7 days a week for 20 minutes per day, your doctor will know that you are meeting the CDC recommendations for moderate physical activity. Keep up the good work!

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