DEAR JIM: At 72, I am at least 40 pounds overweight, and my doctor has recommended that I start dieting and exercising to lose weight. However, he is fatter than I am! How can he prescribe exercise for me when he doesn’t even follow his own advice? If it isn’t important to him, why should it be important to me? MIFFED IN MISSOULA
DEAR MIFFED: You’ve heard the old saying, “do as I say – not as I do?” Sure you have because parents use it all the time. In this case your doctor is the “parent,” so listen to his advice even if he doesn’t follow it himself.
It is difficult enough for most physicians to prescribe exercise at all (although it has improved in recent years), so take heart in the fact that at least your doctor is enlightened enough to realize what is best for you even if he doesn’t practice what he preaches.
Most of us find it difficult to understand why physicians and other medical professionals don’t always adhere to higher standards of health and fitness than the rest of us. I used to work for a hospital and was shocked that the head of cardiac rehab weighed more than 300 pounds and the respiratory therapists smoked on their lunch break. These people are constantly treating patients who refuse to take any responsibility for their own health, and they see the never-ending consequences, so you would think that they would learn something from watching their own patients. But it doesn’t always work that way. We have to remember that doctors and other health professionals are only human too, and we don’t always do what is best for us either, do we?
Studies indicate that when doctors prescribe exercise for their patients, patients will follow through almost 70 percent of the time because we believe our doctors to be credible. That percentage would probably increase if our doctors took better care of themselves and set a better example. Still, some of the best football coaches in the NFL never played in the NFL, and your doctor is not any different. Just because he doesn’t adhere to a personal health and fitness regimen doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know what he is talking about, and he is under no obligation to be a role model for you even if you would like him to be.
A recent study by the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center published in the October edition of Preventive Cardiology shows that the health habits of physicians DO matter when it comes to doctors counseling their own patients, so the mixed message you feel about your doctor’s own weight and physical condition is perfectly normal.
“Living a healthy lifestyle themselves translates into a more believable message to their patients,”says lead author Michael Howe, M.D., chief medical resident at U-M Health System .
Even so, few physicians in the study believed they could change the behavior of their patients even when their patients know that weight loss can prevent or alleviate obesity-related diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. In other words, most patients are going to do what they want to do regardless of what their physician might recommend – especially when it comes to diet and exercise. Could that be you?
The fact is that your doctor gave you some good advice, and I hope your take it more seriously than he does. Why? Because 65% of all the reasons why we die in this country are preventable, and losing 40 pounds will improve the quality of your life even if you don’t live a day longer.
Just imagine if I asked you to carry a 40-pound sack of potatoes around with you all day long. By the end of the day you would be exhausted. Well, carrying around 40 pounds of extra bodyweight every day has exactly the same effect. It wears on you and takes a terrible toll on your health and lifestyle. It saps your energy and prevents you from doing many of the things that you might otherwise enjoy doing.
My advice is to listen to your doctor and take control of your own life and quit worrying about his personal habits. You’ve got enough to worry about getting yourself back in shape.
Jim Evans is a 43-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and internationally recognized fitness consultant. He is also a member of the Visionary Board of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA). Readers can send their questions about health and fitness to Jim at [email protected]