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April 16, 2020

A 'motivational' talk with your doctor may reduce your risk of heart disease

Empathetic approach to lifestyle counseling inspires personal responsibility, study finds

Adult Health Heart Disease
Motivational Interviewing by doctors Online Marketing/Unsplash

Patients who are counseled by doctors trained in motivational interviewing are less likely to develop heart disease, a new study finds.

Truly changing behaviors is a difficult endeavor – even when people are faced with a chronic illness like cardiovascular disease. 

But new research suggests that lifestyle changes are more likely to stick when doctors use motivational interviewing – a psychotherapeutic approach that encourages patients to vocalize their personal commitments to change. 

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark found the risk of cardiovascular disease was 13% lower in patients who spoke with a doctor trained in motivational interviewing. They found one notable exception: There was no difference among patients with diabetes or those at-risk for it. 

"Our study suggests that motivational interviewing could be a promising method for reducing cardiovascular disease," Aarhus University's Torsten Lauritzen said. "As the name suggests, the purpose of motivational interviewing is to motivate the person to change their lifestyle, for example by exercising more, switching to a healthier diet or quitting smoking." 

Motivational interviewing is a technique developed in the 1980s by psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick. It is most commonly used to treat addiction and manage chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

Rather than simply providing advice, motivational interviewing requires doctors take an empathetic approach, encouraging patients to vocalize their intentions to change. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, several studies have found that motivational interviewing can lead to stricter adherence to weight loss and dietary changes. Most earlier studies focused on short-term benefits; the Aarhus University study is the first to explore more long-term impacts.

The researchers based their calculations on the number of deaths and hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease over eight years among almost 26,000 patients included in the study.

"The results are probably due to the fact that the patients are controlled by their inner motivation, and that via the interviewing, patients are helped to take the decision to change and maintain a new lifestyle, instead of being told that 'you have to change your lifestyle,'" Lauritzen added. "The survey raises our awareness about how we talk to our patients and that this can have a preventative effect."

The study's findings were published in the British Journal of General Practice Open.

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