Since the dawn of the doctor’s visit, taking vital signs has been a mainstay. Height, weight, temperature, heart rate, blood pressure. It’s a routine process that we participate in almost without thinking.

But at Kaiser Permanente, after the blood pressure cuff comes off, you’ll get questions that might surprise you: how many days a week do you exercise moderately or strenuously? How many minutes a day do you exercise at this level?

Come again? At first thought, asking about physical activity levels might seem unorthodox. Unlike other vital signs, it’s measuring a behavior, not a body part. But conventional thinking about health and health care has changed, and systems like Kaiser Permanente recognize that addressing personal behavior and lifestyle is just as important as addressing biology.

A new KP Policy Story from Benjamin Wheatley of the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy highlights our “Exercise as a Vital Sign” (EVS) initiative. Since 2009, Kaiser Permanente providers have asked patients about their exercise habits during routine office visits. Taking this “vital sign” encourages ongoing conversations between patients and providers about physical activity, and serves as a gateway for referring patients to activities such as yoga, Zumba classes or hiking clubs. Recent research shows positive results of the EVS initiative: in 2013, we found that asking about exercise habits is associated with modest weight loss in overweight patients and improved glucose control among diabetics.

You can read the story in its entirety at the Institute for Health Policy site.

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