The White Coats Are Coming! (Walking Briskly Around The Common With The Surgeon General Tomorrow)

They’re calling it the “White Coats, White Sneakers” Walk. I think I’d call it the “Walking the Walk” Walk. That is to say: If you’re in health care, it’s not enough just to tell your patients to exercise. You have to “just do it” yourself.

Tomorrow (Friday) at about noon, a passel of local health care leaders, providers and even a few patients plan to march energetically for about a mile around The Boston Common, along with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. As they walk, some will hand out paper prescriptions for exercise and healthier lifestyles.

Sure, it’s a stunt — engineered by the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital-- but you can’t argue with the goal of getting more people in our obesogenic nation to exercise. And it highlights some persuasive findings about how health care providers are in a unique position to help make that happen.

“We have data that the healthier you are, the healthier your patients will be,” said Dr. Eddie M. Phillips, head of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine. “Physicians and other health care providers need to become even better role models than we already are in prescribing exercise, asking about someone’s level of exercise and doing it ourselves.”

He’s got some highly prominent role models signed up for the walk tomorrow, including medical school deans, state public health commissioner John Auerbach, Boston public health chief Barbara Ferrer, Partners Healthcare chief Gary Gottlieb and Brigham and Women’s president Elizabeth Nabel. (Official info on the walk is here.)

Physicians do tend to be healthier than the rest of the population, Eddie Phillips said, but “we’d like to promote that even further.”

“The idea is to let the heath care providers set the pace and let us encourage not just by asking or pointing or cajoling, but by saying 'I’m making a change, follow me.' The benefits of walking for 30 minutes a day are endless, but the short story is that your overall mortality drops by 25-30% if you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day.”

Granted, he said, a mile around the Common won’t take half an hour, but you can get your 30 minutes in 10-minute increments.

The walk is part of a panoply of national and global efforts to help health-care providers push exercise. Check out “Exercise is Medicine,” Eddie said — an initiative to make physical activity a vital sign and encourage providers to write prescriptions for exercise.

“Studies show that if the doctor hands someone a written prescription, the compliance rates with these recommendations do go up,” he said.

This program aired on November 11, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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