Originally created 08/05/98

Black doctors urged to exercise



It's time doctors practiced what they preach to patients about keeping fit and exercising, particularly black doctors, a cardiologist at Medical College of Georgia told an annual meeting of the nation's largest minority medical association.

George Mensah spoke Tuesday at the 96th Annual Scientific Assembly of the National Medical Association in New Orleans. Dr. Mensah, who is vice president of the Association of Black Cardiologist, said what kills black doctors at a higher rate than white doctors is often preventable.

A study tracking black doctors who graduated from Meharry Medical School in 1957 and white doctors from Johns Hopkins Medical School showed that black doctors died at twice the rate of their white colleagues, Dr. Mensah said. Surveys show black doctors are twice as likely to smoke or practice other behaviors, such as not exercising, that put them at risk for heart disease, Dr. Mensah said.

"The assumption usually is doctors do the right thing," Dr. Mensah said. "That is not the case."

But it is not limited to black physicians, said Ward Rogers, a cardiologist with Augusta Cardiology Associates.

"I think compared to the general population doctors tend to try and follow their own advice and live heart healthy lives," Dr. Rogers said. "It's something some succeed at and others don't."

In particular, finding time to exercise for busy doctors is difficult, much like their patients, Dr. Mensah and Dr. Rogers agreed. But having found a solution in a home exercise machine has given Dr. Mensah a chance to share that with patients who desperately need to be convinced of the importance of exercise.

"I'm much more convincing (talking about that) than if I tell them, `Go out and exercise,'^" Dr. Mensah said. And that can be important in gaining credibility with the patient, Dr. Rogers said.

"I think they may find some justification in my doctor can't do that himself so it justifies their weakness," Dr. Rogers said.

It also shows that doctors are not immune to what many of their patients experience, Dr. Rogers said.

"Convincing people to make lifestyle changes is one of the hardest things to do," Dr. Rogers said. That physicians might also find it difficult shows "we're all human."

And while it was stern medicine, his fellow physicians seemed to take his talk to heart, Dr. Mensah said.

"It was well-received," he said. "I had a number of people come up to me and say, `I'm turning over a new leaf."'

Finding the time to exercise, or lose weight, or give up smoking means more than just setting a good example, Dr. Mensah said.

"When we die, we're no good to our patients," he said.