Do schemes to “prescribe” physical activity work?

Schemes that provide prescriptions for people to undertake physical activity are most effective when specific groups are targeted, and when they run for longer periods, a review finds.

The researchers reviewed 37 studies conducted in 11 countries, investigating physical activity on prescription (PARS) health promotion programs which involve health professionals referring eligible patients to an exercise professional who organises a physical activity program.

In all countries, the main reason for referral to PARS programs was chronic disease and sedentary lifestyle.

The difference in the pooled proportion of people who adhered to physical activity measured at the beginning of the PARS program, and the adherence rate measured after the program, was 17%, according to findings in BMJ Open.

The researchers said there were differences in the duration of programs, reasons for referral and patient payments, that influenced their effectiveness.

For example, a longer duration of PARS program in some parts of the UK was associated with a higher level of self-reported physical activity. And providing access to a physical leisure centre was important, but not sufficient to increase physical activity, the review suggested.

“Even with tailor-made programs, targeting specific population groups such as women and older adults is just one step in proving a successful program. Other steps include making a difference between diagnostic categories.”

The study found targeting particular groups, taking into account their preferences and providing programs over a longer period of time, even with small participant fees, appeared to lead to greater effectiveness than implementation within a general population group.

Read the review

Physical activity on prescription schemes (PARS): do programme characteristics influence effectiveness? Results of a systematic review and meta-analyses

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