How can GPs approach prescribing exercise to patients in place of drugs?

A report by the Academy of Royal Colleges says exercise should be prescribed in place of drugs to prevent a range of illnesses but how can GPs approach this with patients?

Whilst there’s no denying the benefits of exercise people often feel uncomfortable discussing it. One King’s College London study found that 80% of obese people had never talked to their doctor about their weight which, given the medical complications associated with obesity, is astounding.

Since the rise of the gym selfies and checking in functions meaning everyone knows when you’re working out and how well you’re doing, exercising has become a moral issue. You’re a good person if you do it and a bad person if you don’t – bring that conversation into a GPs office, however well-intentioned, and often patients will feel humiliated and judged for being ‘lazy’ and immoral for not exercising enough already.

Then there’s the old adage of leading by example. What are the chances a patient will take the advice of a GP with regards to exercise when they themselves are overweight? It has to be practise what you preach and in a country where only half the population takes enough exercise (with that figure dropping to a third for the over-65s) doctors needs to take their role in encouraging it seriously.

E-health monitoring services, like Caros, could be the key to success here – people relate to and understand what they can see. Being able to monitor the success of their exercise efforts in terms of their overall health is sure to be a valuable incentive and doctors should consider getting behind such services in order to properly equip patients for their new lifestyle journey.

Thirty minutes of exercise, five times a week can be enough to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, some cancers and depression by at least 30%. With figures like that GPs need to step up and tackle the issue head on in order to empower their patients to do the same.

We’re at a precipice of personal health, one which sees the patient reclaim ownership of their wellness for the better of themselves and NHS budgets. We can only hope we’re all prepared to take the plunge.