Doctors should consider exercise a fifth 'vital sign'

July 5, 2012

In a new Lancet paper, an international team of researchers set out to examine whether sport and exercise contribute to the health of nations. They argue that although country-wide data on participation in sports are too scarce to draw any firm conclusions in this respect, the existing evidence suggests that regular participation in sports and / or exercise has clear benefits for physical and mental health, and that health professionals need to pay more attention to their patients' fitness.

"Low fitness is a better predictor of mortality than obesity or hypertension, which are risk factors afforded far greater emphasis than fitness by the media and most ," according to Professor Karim Khan of the University of British Columbia, Canada, one of the paper's authors.

The researchers suggest that if health professionals were to consider as a "vital sign", they could provide more help for patients to adopt exercise regimes. This could result in dramatic improvements in the number of people who regularly exercise, in the same way that advice has resulted in reductions in the number of people who smoke in many countries.

Despite the lack of high-quality data on nationwide sport participation levels, existing studies appear to show clear health benefits associated with regular participation in sport and / or . For instance, a series of small published in 2010 showed that people who started playing football two or three times a week, having formerly never played the game, experienced reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Sport can also have a positive effect on health awareness, with the authors mentioning FIFA's 11 for Health education programme in which football superstars such as Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o provide educational messages about health issues for young people. This programme resulted in an 18% improvement in health knowledge in schools in Zimbabwe and Mauritius.

According to the authors, "The evidence for physical activity as a major public health preventative approach and a potent medical therapy has increased exponentially in the 64 years since London, UK, last hosted the Olympic Games…We believe that small changes at the community level and large, nationwide policies and initiatives are needed to improve health at a country level."

Explore further: Study points to health disparities in physical fitness

More information: www.thelancet.com/series/sports-and-exercise-medicine

Related Stories

Study points to health disparities in physical fitness

June 4, 2011

An Indiana University study examining disparities in physical fitness levels between older adults who are patients of safety net community health centers (CHC) and those who are members of a medically affiliated fitness center ...

'Weak evidence' to support exercise referrals

November 7, 2011

Research commissioned by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme and carried out by research teams from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD) and the Universities of Exeter (Sport and Health Sciences) ...

Recommended for you

Bright lighting encourages healthy food choices

May 26, 2016

Dining in dimly lit restaurants has been linked to eating slowly and ultimately eating less than in brighter restaurants, but does lighting also impact how healthfully we order?

Big Data can save lives, says leading cancer expert

May 16, 2016

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

New soap to ward off malaria carrying mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—Gérard Niyondiko along with colleagues Frank Langevin and Lisa Barutel has posted a project on the crowd source funding site ulule for a product called Faso Soap. They claim the soap can cut in half the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.