Monday, November 28, 2011
London: Overweight patients who are sent on subsidised gym sessions by GPs may as well just go for more walks, researchers claim.
A study discovered only "weak evidence" in favour of exercise referral schemes, which see the NHS help pay for fitness classes ranging from swimming to yoga.
It found no disparity in the physical health of patients referred to exercise classes and those taking part in walking programmes.
Analysis of eight trials showed that when comparing the two groups, there was "no consistent evidence" of differences in fitness, blood pressure, obesity levels, blood sugar, blood pressure or breathing.
There are thought to be some 1,300 exercise referral schemes across Britain in which patients, after assessment by their GPs, are given discounted or free access to swimming, gym sessions, yoga or dance classes.
The latest study into their results, featured in the British Medical Journal, was carried out by research teams at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD) and the universities of Exeter and Brunel.
‘More work needed'
Toby Pavey, an associate research fellow at PCMD who co-ordinated the analysis, said there was no doubt that exercise prevented ill-health — but he warned that referral schemes had not proved their worth.
"Our study does not question the importance of physical activity for good health," he said. "What it does do is question the effectiveness of the referral programme as it is delivered at present.
"It is clear that, with increasing pressure on NHS budgets and changes to the way in which services are commissioned as part of current NHS reforms, more work needs to be done to establish how existing referral programmes may be made more effective and who they should be targeted towards."
Despite his misgivings, Dr Pavey admitted that there was "weak evidence" of a short-term increase in physical activity and a drop in depression levels among unfit patients who were invited to complete 10 to 12 sessions of exercise at a local fitness centre.
Eva Cyhlarova, head of research at the Mental Health Foundation charity, said: "We would like to see further research into the mental health benefits of exercise referral schemes for targeted groups of people, such as those with common mental health problems."
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