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Prevention is Key

As health care providers we wear many different hats, we have such an awesome responsibility of caring for our patients. A few of our responsibilities include diagnosing, treating, educating, encouraging and the list goes on. One of my favorite roles in caring for patients is focusing on the prevention of disease. I think as providers one of the best feelings in the world is seeing our patients move away from the illness end of the spectrum to the wellness end of the spectrum. In this blog post I’m going to focus on encouraging and educating our patients on nutrition and physical activity. 

Nutrition

I don’t know about you but the two basic nutrition classes I had in school didn’t fully prepare me for talking nutrition with patients. I’ve learned a lot through my own studies, and I’m still learning. One of the biggest things I have learned is, when talking nutrition with patients, keep it simple…like kindergarten simple. The second you say “micronutrients or macronutrients” you have already lost 95% of your patients’ attention. Here’s some of the basics of how I educate patients on nutrition: 

  • Avoid food that was made in a factory, comes out of a box and has ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
  • Eat foods that are in their original form. Example, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, high quality grains and high quality meats. 
  • When grocery shopping, shop along the outside of the store. Avoid going down the inner aisles that are full of prepackaged, processed foods. 
  • Avoid sugary drinks and food. Those are diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. waiting to happen. 

You might be thinking, “how am I going to have time to educate patients about their nutrition?” I think about it as, “I have to make time to educate patients about their nutrition.” The food we eat is our body’s fuel. If our patients are putting in donuts and sodas on a regular basis, they can take all the medication in the world and it will be like trying to fight a fire with gasoline. 

Physical Activity

We have to get our patients exercising! Strasser, Volaklis, Fuchs and Burtscher (2018) discuss resistance and endurance type exercises as being vital in improving fitness and counteracting illness and mortality from various disease processes. If all we do is tell our patients to “exercise” the chances of it happening are slim. We need to give them guidance on physical activity. If patients understand the importance/benefits of exercise and the consequences of not exercising they are more likely to do it. 

Prescribe your patients exercise routines and programs. The American College of Sports Medicine has an extended group called Exercise is Medicine. I highly recommend checking out their website. There is a link to patient education handouts and exercise prescriptions for foundational exercises and medical condition specific exercises at the end of this post. 

Sometimes we have to lay out the harsh reality for our patients to make them embrace and apply lifestyle changes. I’ve been known to tell patients that if they don’t change the way the eat and start exercising to get a control on their health that they will end up losing a leg to diabetes, not being here to walk their daughter down the aisle on her wedding day or see their grandchildren grow up. When you put it to the patient like this it really hits home and usually gets them motivated to make lifestyle changes. 

Most importantly we need to set an example for our patients, if we are telling them to eat healthy and exercise, we need to be doing it too. We are role models for our patients. 

Here are some tips to help you in practice: 

  1. At each visit spend a couple of minutes talking nutrition and physical activity with your patients. When they are in on their next visit, build on the previous visit’s discussion. Small baby steps, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
  2. Make sure your patients are getting enough high quality protein in their diet. Protein is essential in building muscle and in the healing processes of the body. As we age and if chronic inflammatory diseases are present in the body it is even more important to monitor protein intake due to higher rates of sarcopenia (Strasser et al., 2018).
  3. Find a nutritionist or nutrition specialist in your area that you can collaborate with and refer patients to. 
  4. Make sure and follow up with your patients on their exercise prescription. 

Teaching our patients to build strength through nutrition and physical activity is one of the most instrumental ways we can help them age gracefully, improve their quality of life, reverse and prevent chronic inflammatory diseases. 

Link to Exercise is Medicine patient education materials and exercise prescriptions: https://www.exerciseismedicine.org/support_page.php/rx-for-health-series/

What are your tips and tricks to get your patients eating better and exercising more?

References

Strasser, B., Volaklis, K., Fuchs, D., & Burtscher, M. (2018). Role of dietary protein and muscular fitness on longevity and aging. Aging and Disease, 9(1), 119-132. doi: 10.14336/AD.2017.0202

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