Teaching of the Benefits of Exercise for Patients

August 16, 2012

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Not enough emphasis is being placed on teaching medical students the importance of exercise for overcoming illness and staying healthy, research has shown. In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers say that out of 31 medical schools surveyed in the UK, only a quarter taught medical school students about the importance of physical exercise for improving a patient’s health.

The research comes at a time of record obesity, which is becoming a rising problem in the UK, causing all sorts of health problems such as diabetes. Currently, one in three adults admits to not doing enough physical exercise. The benefits of physical activity for improving health are well known. However, in the new study, instruction in how important exercise is and how it can improve health was “sparse or non-existent.”



In the study, researchers surveyed nearly all of the UK’s medical schools and asked curriculum and study leaders about how much instruction was given as to the benefits of exercise for patients’ health. Five of the medical schools admitted to not giving any specific teaching on the benefits of activity, while only four included the benefits of exercise and activity as part of their courses.

This is despite the Chief Medical Officer publishing guidance on the importance of healthy exercise, which only half of all medical schools say they include in their curriculum. The research was conducted by Dr Richard Weiler of the University College London, who says that giving medical students a basic understanding of the benefits of exercise, especially for patients with chronic diseases, should underpin how future doctors manage the care patients.


Exercise and disease

It has long been known that patients, who suffer chronic, non-communicable disease, can benefit greatly from a regular exercise plan. Studies have consistently found that patients who take part in regular exercise or physical activity have a better prognosis than those patients who do not. Furthermore, recovery times can be greatly improved if patients are prescribed exercise alongside regular medical and pharmacological treatments.

Exercise benefits nearly all patients, from those that are recovering or managing chronic disease, to people who are getting over surgery or other treatments, to those suffering from mental health conditions. The lack of instruction given to medical students regarding these benefits, raises serious questions as to the lack of a formal curriculum for teaching exercise benefits in medical schools, say the researchers.


Growing importance

With rising obesity levels and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the role of exercise in general day-to-day living, as well as being part of recovery and treatment for patients, will only increase in importance. However, the researchers say there is a major disconnect between medical undergraduate education, national policy and clinical guidelines, and have called for all medical schools to include instruction on the benefits of physical activity as a matter of urgency, so future doctors have the skills necessary to meet the challenges of future healthcare. Failing to understand the importance of exercise for improving patient health, say the researchers, could result in the next generation of doctors being unable to manage healthcare effectively.