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Green prescriptions: UK urged to learn from New Zealand and prescribe outdoor exercise to patients

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Doctors in the UK are being urged to adopt “green prescriptions” similar to those which have helped increase activity levels in New Zealand.

Thanks to a scheme introduced in 1998, New Zealand’s general practitioners (GPs) are able to prescribe walking, cycling and other outdoor exercise activities to patients.

The prescriptions are then forwarded to a patient support person who encourages the patient to be more active through phone calls, face-to-face meetings and organising group meetings with others given similar prescriptions.

Progress is then reported back and monitored by the GP.

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.

Now, the Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for British GPs to prescribe patients similar exercise sessions in order to get more people doing physical activity in the UK.

Councillor Izzi Secombe, chair of LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said: "The green prescription model is something that could help to tackle major health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

“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.”

Steven Ward, executive director of ukActive, added: "Britain is in the grip of a cradle to grave physical inactivity crisis and the great outdoors is a fantastic gateway for getting people moving again.

"Physical activity has been hailed as a miracle cure which can help to treat and prevent more than 20 lifestyle-related diseases and if GPs were to prescribe this it would bring huge benefits to people's physical and mental health.

"As ukactive has seen with our targeted intervention programme Let's Get Moving, empowering at-risk patients to take part in regular physical activity transforms lives and offers a potent antidote to our growing health crisis."

A three-year green prescription pilot is currently underway in Devon and Somerset, where GPs are encouraging patients to visit the region’s national parks as part of their treatment. The aim is to get people who don't currently go onto the moors to spend time there – whether they walk, cycle, or simply have a picnic.

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Doctors in the UK are being urged to adopt “green prescriptions” similar to those which have helped increase activity levels in New Zealand.
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