GPs given new support in prescribing physical activity

People are more likely to take up physical activity if it is prescribed by a doctor


GPs are to receive a package of support in prescribing physical activity to patients, as part of the first Active Practice Charter.

Thanks to the link-up between The Royal College of GPs and Sport England, awareness will be raised of the simple changes that can be made to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of patients and staff, such as signposting to local exercise classes or partnering with a nearby activity provider.

The Active Practice Charter builds on an existing initiative in which GP practices have been encouraged to develop closer links with their local parkrun to become certified ‘parkrun practices.’

The charter, which is supported by National Lottery investment from Sport England, outlines the key principles of what it means for a practice to be ‘active’, and the steps GPs and their teams can take to get there.

To become an ‘Active Practice’ and receive a certificate recognising their status, surgeries will demonstrate that they have taken a number of steps, including:

  • Increasing physical activity in patients and staff

  • Reducing sedentary behaviour in patients and staff

  • Partnering with a local physical activity provider to support the practice to get more people active

Research shows that doing regular physical activity can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by as much as 35% and decrease the risk of early death by as much as 30%.

However, the UK population is around 20% less active than during the 1960s and physical inactivity is a significant financial burden, estimated to cost as much as £7.4 billion each year, including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone.

One in four patients say they would be more active if it was recommended by a GP or nurse. And while many GPs already promote physical activity in their surgeries, some identify barriers to prescribing exercise or discussing physical activity – for example, not having enough time in the consultation to have effective conversations with patients.

This is why the Royal College of General Practitioners and Sport England have also launched a Physical Activity and Lifestyle toolkit to help practices achieve Active Practice status. It contains a comprehensive selection of condition-specific, professional-facing information documents that can be used to help all healthcare professionals – including the Moving Medicine website, a step by step guide to conversations with patients about physical activity.

Dr Andrew Boyd, RCGP Clinical Champion for Physical Activity and Lifestyle, said: “Busy GPs can’t be expected to do everything when it comes to getting the nation more active, but we can play a vital role in starting the conversation with patients.

“By making small changes in our own workplace – using standing desks, encouraging active transport for staff, and partnering with local physical activity providers, for example - we can demonstrate to patients that being more active is good for everyone’s physical and mental health.”

Sport England’s CEO Tim Hollingworth said: “Physical activity has a key role to play in helping people manage and improve their health and wellbeing. As trusted sources of information, GPs and practice teams have a real opportunity to start discussions that help it become the new normal in their community – for prevention as well as treatment.

“This toolkit will help busy GPs talk to patients about getting active and recommend local opportunities as part of their routine practice. We’re delighted to be celebrating those GP practices who are promoting active lifestyles to patients and staff through the Active Practice Charter.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “All GPs know that encouraging patients to be more active can have huge benefits on their health and wellbeing and, in some cases, drastically improve conditions such as diabetes and heart disease - even dementia.

“But having the time to advise patients on lifestyle in the current 10-minute consultation can be a huge challenge, especially when there are often so many other things we need to discuss and when this probably wasn’t the reason the patient has made the appointment – so taking a practice-wide approach to encouraging healthier lifestyles, for all of us, is a great idea.

“I’m delighted to see this project come to fruition and hope it helps practices up and down the country, including my own, further promote the truly life-changing health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity and keeping an active lifestyle.”

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