GPs should be role models for physical health, says Public Health England

GPs should become 'physical activity role models', according to a public health report that argues fitter GPs will be better able to discuss and promote increased physical activity in patients.

The latest Health Matters report from Public Health England (PHE) encourages GPs to mention physical activity in every consultation and to ensure they are active themselves to best help patients.

One in four patients would be more active if their GP advised them to do more exercise, the report says. But to promote the message effectively, GPs should become 'a physical activity role model', PHE officials say, because 'increasing your own activity levels will improve your own health and make it easier for you to discuss physical activity with other people'.

The call for GPs to be physical health role models follows comments in 2014 from chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies that the profession should not be overweight or obese. The CMO told GPonline at the time that she was 'perpetually surprised' at how many NHS staff were overweight, and warned that this made getting physical health messages over to patients more difficult.

CMO: GPs should not be fat

The PHE report recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 should aim to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity – such as brisk walking or cycling – in bouts of 10 minutes or more each week.

All adults should also include muscle strengthening activity as part of their activity, such as exercising with weights, doing yoga or carrying heavy shopping, it advised.

Older patients and those with long-term conditions in particular should be encouraged to minimise sedentary time.

The NHS health check and NHS diabetes prevention programme (DPP) offer ‘excellent opportunities’ for GPs to discuss physical activity and identify whether a patient needs to do more, it said.

It added that GPs and other healthcare professionals should become 'physical activity role models' to 'make it easier' for them to discuss physical activity with other people, in addition to improving their own health.

Physical activity advice

A PHE spokeswoman said: ‘People in the UK are around 20% less active now than in the 1960s. If current trends continue, we will be 35% less active by 2030.

‘We are the first generation to need to make a conscious decision to build physical activity into our daily lives. Fewer of us have manual jobs. Technology dominates at home and at work, the two places where we spend most of our time. Societal changes have designed physical activity out of our lives.

‘Increasing car use is a major contributing factor to lower levels of physical activity in the UK. In 1961, 69% of households did not own a car or van, but by 2012 this had decreased to 25%.

‘Figures from the Health Survey for England show that 67% of men and 55% of women aged 16 and over do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.’

In other, alternative ways of improving health, PHE called for pedestrians and cyclists to be given ‘highest priority’ when designing new roads and for employers to put signs outside lifts highlighting that two minutes of stair-climbing a day could burn enough calories to eliminate the weight an average adults gains each year.

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