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Researchers show “exercise on prescription” works

Friday 12 December 2008

Researchers show “exercise on prescription” works

Exercise on prescription increases physical activity and quality of life and should become part of wider population strategies to promote exercise, concludes a New Zealand study published in the British Medical Journal ( today.

Lead researcher Dr Beverley Lawton, University of Otago Wellington, says this large randomised controlled trial looked at the effects of “prescribing” exercise on the health of 1089 less-active women, aged 40-74, over a two-year period. The trial used an augmented “Green Prescription” and involved an initial nurse consultation and telephone support over nine months to help women become more physically active, as well as a follow-up check with the primary care nurse.

“The increases in physical activity were most marked at 12 months,” says Dr Lawton. “Although we expected a decline after one year, the drop off was not as great as expected, with activity levels still higher than at the beginning of the study, and significantly higher in the intervention than in the control group.”

This is the first study to show a significant effect of an exercise on prescription programme on physical activity over two years. However there was a small increase in falls and injuries associated with the programme.

Participants completed self-report questionnaires about physical activity and quality of life and had their weight, blood pressure and fasting bloods measured at regular intervals. The results show that, after 12 months, the number of women engaged in moderate physical activity (30 minutes for five or more days of the week) increased from 10 per cent to 42 per cent of the intervention group; and, after two years, 39 per cent were still achieving this goal. Physical functioning and mental health measures improved in the intervention compared to the control group, but one physical function measure was lower. However, there were no statistical differences in clinical outcomes (such as blood pressure or cholesterol levels).

“The overall results of the Women’s Lifestyle Study support the use of ‘exercise on prescription’ programmes with women over 40 years of age,” says Dr Lawton. “There is now widespread acceptance that regular exercise has considerable health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart and lung disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and death from all causes, by an estimated 20-30 per cent. This means an exercise on prescription programme with less active adults could have considerable health impacts for individuals and cost savings for governments.” The research was funded by grants from the New Zealand Heart Foundation, the Maori Health Directorate (Ministry of Health), Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC), the Hutt Valley District Health Board and the New Zealand Lottery Health Research Grants Board.


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