The best medicine: Gyms, walking groups and clubs good for long-term conditions

27 Jul 2017

Gyms, walking groups, gardening, cooking clubs and volunteering have all been shown to help improve the health and well-being in people with long-term conditions, including osteoporosis, researchers have found.

According to a new paper by scientists at the University of Newcastle, so called “Social Prescriptions” - where health professionals link up patients to activities and support in the community that may benefit them – are an effective tool to help people struggling with ill-health.

The study is based on interviews with 30 people involved in an initiative to support sufferers of long-term conditions in the Newcastle area by directing them to services such as gardening, volunteering, and walking, cooking and dance clubs.

Study results, published in BMJ Open, revealed that doing activities such as gardening or attending dance clubs helps patients to be more active and lose weight, which in turn makes them better able to manage pain and tiredness. Such classes also help patients feel less socially isolated, while boosting their self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

Dr Suzanne Moffatt, Reader in Social Gerontology at the University said the study was the first time that non-medical interventions through social prescribing had been fully analysed for physical health problems and the results were “very encouraging.”

“What the study also highlighted was the importance of a specific individual, a Link Worker, to help people with issues such as welfare benefits, debt, housing – so they were helping with the whole life and lifestyle which was shown to improve the person’s health and well-being.”

Professor Dawn Skelton from Glasgow Caledonian University and Chair of the National Osteoporosis Society’s Exercise Working Group said maintaining or increasing physical activity once diagnosed with osteoporosis is vital.

“This study shows the benefits of activity prescription, in terms of confidence and engagement, to those with long term conditions. So many people are concerned about what they can or cannot do safely and so avoid activity altogether. However, bone needs a constant stimulus to remain strong and regular movement and activity, regular stimulus of muscle use and weight bearing activity are very necessary in order to ensure bones are at their best.”

Find more information on improving bone health through healthy living, or why not set yourself a walking challenge today and sign up for our 206 Challenge

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