PA Moves aims to study, improve physical activity among rural residents

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

You may not know it, but if you live in a rural area, you may face some health disparities not shared by urban city dwellers. People who live in rural areas are diagnosed and die from cancer at a higher rate than people living in cities. Rural folks are also less physically active and tend to be more overweight/obese or have diabetes. Adults with these conditions often have changes in the way their bodies deal with insulin, glucose metabolism, and inflammation. Physical activity is thought to reduce the risk and occurrence of several cancers (bladder, breast, colon, kidney, prostate) by improving these issues over time.

May 2, 2022Penn State College of Medicine News

Your need for more physical activity can be identified by your doctor, but there might not be enough time or resources to get you advice or assistance. Fewer health care providers are located in rural areas compared to cities, which can also affect your access to care and the time spent with your doctor.

Enter into the picture Dr. Kathryn Schmitz and Dr. Mack Ruffin.  They noticed these issues and designed a study called “PA Moves” to help. PA Moves aims to involve up to 48 rural doctors and 880 rural patients over the course of five years. Broad criteria for inclusion in the study are rural patients that are physically inactive, overweight/obese (body mass index greater than or equal to 25) or diabetic (hemoglobin A1c greater than or equal to 5.7%), and a patient of a doctor participating in the study.

At the ground level, this study will provide education to doctors on the impact of physical activity on overall health, as well as how best to talk to their rural patients about the amount of physical activity they get.

With the help of a physical activity coordinator in their office, rural doctors in the study will make a note of a patient’s level of physical activity in their medical record using a ‘physical activity vital sign.’ This vital sign will include information, such as how hard (the intensity) and how often (the number of times per week) a patient gets physical activity, and these details will be included in the medical record alongside other vital signs like height, weight, and blood pressure.

Additionally, with a patient’s approval, doctors and the physical activity coordinator will connect their patients to a behavioral coaching telephone service called the MoveLine. Similar to the goal of the successful QuitLine (to help people be more healthy through stopping smoking), the MoveLine will exist to help people be more healthy through adding more physical activity into their lives. Staffed by the Harrisburg YMCA, the MoveLine will use strategies designed by a health behavior expert to motivate people to move more. With the help of a community advisory board, resources of activities available in a patient’s local community will also be provided. This list may include parks, walking paths, yoga studios, community fitness centers and other resources.

The PA Moves study will look to make changes to several levels of organization. It relies on experts to design and administer training to doctors and physical activity coaching to patients, with the overall goal of getting rural folks to move more and reduce risk for several common types of cancer.

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