Just what the doctor ordered: the NHS rolls out new plans to prescribe exercise to patients

Studies have proven time and time again that exercise is crucial to living a healthy lifestyle. Regardless, the statistics surrounding exercise in the UK show that more than 20 million people are physically inactive. The Department of Health even goes as far to say an inactive lifestyle is a ‘silent killer’, reinforcing just how effective exercise can be.

The NHS website recommends that adults should partake in 150 minutes of moderate-intense exercise every week. It can be very challenging for patients to know what type of exercise would be best for them and their routine. Your doctor will be able to take into account the different medications or treatments you may be on and point you in the right direction.

Regular exercise has been proven to help with a variety of health issues, including:

• Depression

Exercise releases endorphins, which are a natural brain chemical that increase feelings of euphoria and reduce symptoms of depression and stress. The chemical reacts with the receptors in the brain that reduce our perception of pain, similar to the effect that drugs have on your brain (except not highly addictive).

• Loneliness

Joining social sports clubs or teams can help battle loneliness, as it enables you to meet new people and the exercise reduces the anxiety around the socialising during these gatherings. Playing team sports will also help you connect with others at a faster rate, as playing team sports encourages communication between each other.

• Heart disease

Many studies show that physical fitness can reduce heart disease risk, as it lowers your blood pressure and improves your cholesterol levels, both of which when unregulated, escalate the risk of a heart attack. According to British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory diseases cause over a quarter of deaths in the UK. With 30-60 minutes of exercise a day, you can boost the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in your blood and lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease.

• Dementia

Physical exercise promotes blood flow, exercising the heart valves and pumping oxygenated blood to the brain, improving cognition and quality of sleep. By staying active throughout your life, you consistently exercise the parts of your brain which help prevent deterioration of the brain.

• Different types of cancer

Exercise releases and controls the production of many different hormones in the body. Oestrogen and insulin are hormones which boost cell division in the body. Cancer is caused when cells divide excessively and multiple out of control, so by exercising regularly, you are able to limit the production of these hormones, therefore, reducing the risk of certain cancers. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle has a scientifically proven correlation to reduced cancer risk.

The government is consistently coming up with new ways to help the population have easier access to exercise. The government and the NHS have developed many schemes which help you become more physically active in everyday life and are recommended by GP’s, these include:

• Bike to Work Scheme

This scheme, which was first introduced 20 years ago, allows employees to spend up to £1000 on bikes and equipment tax-free, which enables them to save up to 42 per cent on the overall value of the products. Although a loan to the employees, the loan is interest-free and allows you to save on equipment through a salary sacrifice. This was a move by the government to encourage more people to pursue a healthier lifestyle and reduce pollution. Using this scheme would not only make it more affordable to get high-quality bike equipment, but also inspires workers to pursue a healthier way to work- both physically and environmentally.

• Couch to 5k

An app developed by the NHS which is a week by week running guide for beginners. This app is designed to coach users into gradually improving their fitness, without being too gruelling or tiresome. Many reviews on the app praise it for being ideal for absolute beginners and pushing them into becoming an active and regular runner. With only requiring 3 times a week for 9 weeks, it is hard to find excuses for avoiding this free app.

• Social activities

Employees are being trained as ‘link workers’ as part as the NHS to help assist GP’s, by matching patients with social activities and sports, to give them access to exercise and give them a sense of value. It is projected there will be more than 1000 link workers in the UK by 2020. By handling patients with a personalised method of care, makes it more effective than a standardised form of treatment.

There are many ways that exercise can improve your health, both physically and mentally, which justifies the move to start prescribing exercise to patients within the NHS. This method of treatment is especially being rolled out in the mental health sector, in particular in replacement of antidepressants and therapy. Although some may still need the help of more invasive treatments, doctors are now using this as a first resort, as many people find exercise helps them enough to not depend on medication. So, if you are keen to keep the doctor away, feel free to come down to one of our Choices gyms to have a look around and see how you can easily incorporate regular exercise into your routine!

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