Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
Researchers have called for a re-think of widely used exercise schemes aimed at boosting patients’ health and wellbeing after finding the benefits were unclear.
Exercise referral schemes (ERSs) were first introduced in primary care in England in the 1990s to boost physical activity for those with – or at risk of – long-term conditions.
“These findings suggest the need to consider the implementation of ERSs more critically”
Patients are referred by their general practice to a programme that lasts up to 16 weeks and usually involves both cardio and resistance training at a sports or leisure centre.
However, a new study by UK researchers published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found the impact was not as significant as hoped.
Most studies evaluating such schemes to date have mainly focused on whether or not they increase activity levels rather than improvements in health and wellbeing.
To address this, the research team looked at data for more than 23,700 participants in 13 different schemes lasting between six week and three months – entered into the National Referral Database.
They looked at measurements recorded at the start and end of schemes including weight, blood pressure, resting heart rate and scores for mental health, wellbeing and quality of life.
They found improvements in most of these measures but the changes were not clinically significant.
The researchers also found there were big differences in outcomes between different schemes.
However, the programmes varied considerably in length and content and so did the characteristics of the people taking part.
This meant it was not clear which combination of activities or duration of programme might be most effective or the type of patient most likely to benefit.
When it came to evaluating such schemes the researchers found a lack of agreement about what constituted “impact”.
“The evidence presented here from one of the largest databases of ERS does little to support the use of ERSs,” said the paper.
Given how widely such schemes are used the researchers said it was clear more work was needed to maximise their effectiveness.
“The findings revealed a general lack of meaningful change over time in participants undergoing ERSs lasting between six weeks and three months in length,” said the paper.
“These findings suggest the need to consider the implementation of ERSs more critically to discern how best to maximise their potential in light of the wider literature supporting the efficacy of physical activity and exercise, and the extensive reach of ERSs across the UK.”