Small Changes Can Boost Heart Health—But Doctors Don’t Believe Their Patients Will Make the Effort

(Stocksy)

It’s been found that making small lifestyle adjustments can improve cardiovascular health. There only appears to be one obstacle—your doctor may not think you’re willing to change your habits.

These findings, which are published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, indicate that behavioral treatments—such as individual counseling or group training to improve nutrition or physical activity, reduce or stop smoking or adhere to a drug treatment plan—are often disregarded by medical professionals, due to their belief that change is “too difficult” their patients.

The investigators conducted a review of large-budget studies funded by the National Institutes of Health that involved behavioral interventions (similar to the ones previously mentioned). And here’s what they discovered: More than 80 percent of the randomized clinical trials that included a behavioral intervention reported “significant improvement” for their behavior and a “significant physiological impact,” including weight loss or a reduction in blood pressure.

Interestingly enough, greater improvements were noted when the intervention targeted two behaviors at the same time (like nutrition and physical activity).

“This research suggests that behavioral interventions should be taken more seriously,” study co-author Veronica Irvin, MPH, PhD of Oregon State University, stated in a press release. “It indicates that people are able to achieve realistic behavioral changes and improve their cardiovascular health.”

“Doctors experience patients’ struggles to change ingrained behaviors,” Richard K. Fleming, PhD, a health behavior change expert in the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences at University of Massachusetts Boston, tells Yahoo Health. “However, they may not be aware of newer, more sophisticated lifestyle interventions that help patients overcome personal and environmental barriers to behavior change.”

As the study authors mention, Fleming adds that new programs which “embellish traditional behavior methods—self-monitoring, goal setting, positive reinforcement—with tailoring, motivational interviewing, mindfulness training and social support are improving in effectiveness and efficiency.”

“I think these researchers are onto something,” Dr. Jennifer Caudle, D.O., a board-certified Family Medicine physician and Assistant Professor in the department of Family Medicine at Rowan University-School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Yahoo Health. “As a physician, I do believe that we want to think that everyone is going to change their behavior and making positive health choices. But we know realistically that it doesn’t always happen. It does get frustrating over time and you do, as a physician, start to wonder if anyone is going to listen.”

However, she has one message for her fellow doctors—never give up on your patients. “The truth of the matter is, people do make changes, and it’s our job to stay motivated and to keep recommending behaviors—the diet and weight loss, quitting smoking, and other lifestyle changes,” concludes Dr. Caudle. “It’s a good reminder for us to stay on top of it and not to be discouraged when our patients don’t make these changes right away. Talking about it allows the opportunity for great change to happen. We need to keep the faith.”

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