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Prescribed exercise improves life quality

15th September 2009

By Joanne McCarthy

Exercise prescribed by doctors improves health and quality of life and should become part of wider strategies to promote exercise, a New Zealand study has concluded.

Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart and lung disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and death from all causes by an estimated 20 to 30%.

The effectiveness of an ‘exercise-on-prescription’ programme was examined over two years in more than 1,000 women who were not doing the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise a week.

The women were divided into two groups, those that received the programme intervention, and those that didn’t.

The programme included an initial counselling session of motivating techniques to increase physical activity and telephone support over nine months to help with choice of activity, goal setting and general support.

Participants completed self-report questionnaires about physical activity and quality of life, and had their weight, blood pressure and physical fitness measured at regular intervals.

At the start of the study just one tenth of intervention participants and 11% of participants who received no intervention were achieving 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. The researchers found that both groups increased their physical activity over the two years, but activity was significantly higher in the intervention group.

At 12 months rates increased to 43% in the prescription programme group and 30% in the other group, and at 24 months to 39.3% and 32.8% respectively.

Physical functioning and mental health were also significantly better in the intervention group, but there were no real improvements in clinical outcomes such as blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. Interestingly, more falls and injuries were reported in the intervention group.

According to the research team, prescribing exercise can significantly increase physical activity for up to two years. They believe that reducing physical inactivity at population level would have considerable health benefits, but would require a number of measures including legislation, public health messages, as well as dietary and physical activity programmes.

This study shows that exercise promotion through general practice can change behaviour if it is ‘based on continued contact and dialogue, and tailored to individual needs’, according to Prof Steve Iliffe, who conducted the research.

More serious attention should be given to exercise promotion to improve health and reduce costs, he added.

The results of the study are published on the British Medical Journal website.


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