Doctors prescribing exercise outdoors to patients would get more people doing physical activity and help reduce obesity, say councils. The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils, is calling for a similar model to the "green prescription" in New Zealand that gets people outdoors, to be introduced in England and Wales...
In New Zealand, where the scheme has been running since 1998, eight out of every 10 GPs have issued green prescriptions to patients. These are forwarded to a patient support person who encourages the patient to be more active through phone calls, face-to-face meetings or a support group. A recent survey of patients given green prescriptions in the country found 72 per cent noticed positive changes to their health, 67 per cent improved their diet and more than half (51 per cent) felt stronger and fitter.
Rather than just issuing prescriptions for medicines, the LGA says that if GPs in England and Wales wrote down moderate physical activity goals, it would benefit patients who are obese or overweight. These could be outdoor walks, activities in parks, or family exercise classes run by the local council. Research published in the British Medical Journal found that a green prescription can improve a patient's quality of life over 12 months and help people live longer, healthier lives.
Here at iFootpath, we couldn’t agree more. When Richard and I changed our jobs a few years ago we had two motives; to give ourselves more time to reap the benefits of walking outdoors and also to inspire as many other people as we could to get out walking. In building iFootpath, we wanted to address some of the barriers that people talk about when explaining why they don’t go out walking. Not enough time to plan your route, worrying about what you will find along the way (cattle, stiles etc), not knowing if you have wandered off the route, getting lost…all these things are taken care of in the world of iFootpath. And we are very proud of helping many people to first get into walking – long may it continue! Any extra push nationally can only be a good thing in our eyes.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said, "Not every visit to a GP is necessarily a medical one. By writing formal prescriptions for exercise, it would encourage people to do more physical activity. There are some instances where rather than prescribing a pill, advising on some type of moderate physical activity outdoors could be far more beneficial to the patient. This could be going on organised walks, conservation work with a local park group, or gardening at home. The green prescription model is something that could help to tackle major health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. There are already some good examples where this is being piloted in the UK, and it is something we should consider on a nationwide basis."
Some work is already underway through local pilot schemes. Green prescription-type pilots have been trialled in Devon and Somerset. A three-year scheme is under way where GPs are encouraging patients to visit the national parks as part of their treatment or as an alternative to medication. Surgeries provide Walking for Health Packs to promote walking in the outdoors. If successful, the scheme could be rolled out to national parks elsewhere. Weymouth and Portland Borough Council is part of the Natural Choices group which runs activities for GPs to refer patients to. These include walks, conservation work, gardening and sailing.
More information can be found on the LGA website
6 September 2016