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New health program prescribes exercise

PRESCRIBED ACTIVITY – A new health initiative in the capital region will enable doctors to prescribe exercise to patients

There’s a new type of prescription in town and it’s one you can get filled at the gym.

The Prescription to Get Active program was launched Tuesday by the Edmonton and area Primary Care Networks. It partners health-care providers with local recreational facilities to get people motivated and moving.

Patients can now get an exercise prescription from their family doctor through their primary care network. They can then redeem the prescription at one of several participating exercise facilities across the Edmonton region.

Through the program, Servus Credit Union Place will be offering a free day pass for those with an exercise prescription. The prescription can be from any Edmonton area primary care network, but can only be redeemed at one facility.

“This is one avenue we can use to reach those individuals who have not yet reached a point in their lives where they are living with chronic disease. This is a pre-emptive measure,” said Servus Place manager Jack Ballash.

Prescription to Get Active was launched in 2011 in Leduc and has since expanded to include all nine primary care networks.

“What I think is exciting about this and the success so far is the linkage with the health-care system and community centres,” said Jeff Johnson, a diabetes and health outcomes researcher at the University of Alberta.

Johnson has worked on a similar project run out of Servus Place, called the Healthy Eating and Active Living for Diabetes. The study paired type 2 diabetes participants with an exercise specialist. It monitored their physical activity habits with pedometers.

“It was related in the sense that we were linking PCNs with community recreation centres,” said Johnson. “And that program worked.”

One of the main objectives of Prescription to Get Active is to get doctors talking about physical activity with their patients, said Valerie Carson, an assistant professor in the faculty of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta.

With an exercise prescription, patients can access and track their progress through UWALK, an online provincial walking initiative, she said.

“We know that when people monitor their activity that can also be helpful in promoting behaviour change,” Carson said.

Carson is also on the evaluation and research subcommittee for the project. Researchers will follow up with participants that register with UWALK to see what impact the program has had on their short term and long-term health.

Prescription to Get Active is based on the Green Prescription program from New Zealand.

“The majority of studies have definitely seen short-term benefits in people’s activity levels,” said Carson.

Johnson is curious to see the results of long-term evaluations.

“We do know that if a doctor gives advice, that carries some weight. We will see if a prescription is enough or if they need some additional support,” he said.

On the prescription, doctors can specify the intensity, duration and frequency of recommended physical activity.

Carson noted that recreation facility passes are just one aspect of the exercise prescription.

“If people want to continue being active they need to buy a membership, so there is going to be a cost factor there,” she said, adding resources are also available to show people how to get active in their communities through outdoor sports, biking and walking trails.

“The idea is to provide resources that could meet a broad spectrum of people’s socioeconomic statuses.”

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