Booster Shots

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Get moving -- because it feels good

July 27, 2008 |  9:00 am

The "exercise is good for you" speech that many chronically ill people receive from their healthcare providers might be a great pep talk, but it doesn’t cut it in terms of actually motivating them to move.

AerobicsThat’s what a research study found after analyzing reports in which chronically ill patients were either given a behavioral intervention — specific strategies to help them begin and sustain an exercise program — or interventions that imparted more basic information, such as exercise is good for improving health.

"Most providers will tell you that your diabetes will get better when you exercise, or that you’ll live longer, and they’ll give you a lot of education," says lead author Vicki Conn, associate dean of research in the school of nursing at the University of Missouri. "But we found that stuff doesn’t work."

What did work for people with such illnesses as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis was information they could use to start making changes: put their running shoes by the door, track exercise progress, reward themselves if they met their fitness goals.

The meta-analysis of 163 reports of 22,527 study participants that appeared in the February issue of the journal Patient Education and Counseling found that the detailed interventions had good results. On average, people increased their physical activity by 48 minutes a week and by 945 steps per day.That’s significant, Conn says, considering the chronically ill probably get little to no exercise. The groups that received only simple reminders showed no improvement. "People need to focus on strategies like cueing themselves, self-monitoring and setting goals," Conn says. "Things like, I’ll walk for 10 minutes three times this week — very specific behavior."

She adds that men and women can undertake programs on their own, but should check with their healthcare provider first to make sure it’s safe to exercise.

"People know they’re supposed to exercise," she adds, "but they don’t know how to get started and how to keep going. Those behavioral prompts are important."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times