Exercise Vital Sign for Clinical Practitioners

Adding a vital sign for exercise as an assessment tool in clinical settings could improve patient care, according to research published in the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.  This study, in the November 2012 edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, demonstrates that asking patients about their exercise habits is an important piece of a patient’s care and treatment that is often ignored. “This research offers preliminary support that implementing an exercise vital sign in addition to the traditional vital signs— pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration's— in a large health care system is very possible and could offer many benefits as well as additional patient data,” said the primary investigator, Karen Coleman, Ph.D, of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Research and Evaluation. The authors reviewed data from April 2010 to March 2011 from more than 1.7 million outpatient visits to Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Kaiser Permanente began using the exercise vital sign in October 2009.  Patients at Kaiser are routinely asked questions about their usual daily levels of activity and are assigned a minutes-per-week value based on their answer.  Using a regression model, this study demonstrated that physical inactivity increased disease burden among the sample patient population. As expected, researchers also found lower activity levels among patients who were older, obese or members of ethnic minorities. “There is no better indicator of a person’s health and longevity than the minutes per week of activity a patient engages in,” said Robert E. Sallis, M.D., one of the authors and also the chairman of the Exercise is Medicine advisory board. “When incorporated in a healthcare setting, the exercise vital sign can be an important tool for prevention and management of disease.”