Skip to main content
Home » Rehabilitation » Prescribing exercise – the crucial healthcare tool
Rehabilitation 2019

Prescribing exercise – the crucial healthcare tool

iStock / Getty Images Plus / PredragImages

Steven Aspinall

Chief Executive, BASRaT

The cost of physical activity to the UK is £7.4 billion and, in the time it takes Usain Bolt to run 100m, the NHS has spent £10k on treating preventable chronic diseases. These hard hitting stats can be counteracted by exercise; so, how we can encourage people to move more?

Exercise has many benefits: it can reduce the risk of major illnesses and chronic diseases and can help lead to a healthier and even happier life. Physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing the risk of stress, depression, dementia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

Sport Rehabilitators are specialists in exercise prescription and treat musculoskeletal disorders and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, diabetes and obesity. By helping patients become more active, Sports Rehabilitators can play a key role in reducing the impact of musculoskeletal conditions and physical inactivity.

The wonder drug

Exercise is cheap, has huge benefits and minimal side-effects. It really is a ‘wonder drug and has even been called a miracle cure’. Age is irrelevant; benefits from physical activity can be gained at any age.

Getting people moving through simple messaging

Terms like ‘exercise’ or ‘sport’ can have a negative effect on uptake. We need to focus on getting people moving, encouraging people to start small and gradually increase what they do.

Guidance recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. In real terms this is merely 20 minutes of brisk walking a day. Swapping 20 minutes of TV for a quick walk is achievable. The easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life, like walking or cycling instead of using the car.

Muscle strengthening activities

Guidance also recommends “8–12 repetitions of muscle strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups twice a week”. Without context most people may be bewildered by this. Put simply this can be achieved through heavy gardening, climbing stairs, hill walking, cycling, dancing, yoga and push-ups, sit-ups and squats. 

Moderate and vigorous activity

Simply put, it is important to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer. At moderate intensity you can talk but you can’t sing. Vigorous-intensity activity requires working even harder and can bring further health benefits. You should be breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate will have gone up quite a bit.

How to fit exercise into busy lives

  • During a commute, walk part of the journey, avoid lifts and take the stairs.
  • At lunch, power walk during break-time or lunch – you’ll be more alert afterwards.
  • At weekends, gardening and cleaning can give an effective work out. Walk to the shop and carry groceries, clean the car and walk the dog.
  • Get into the habit of parking at the far end of the car park and walking to the entrance.

What does the future hold if we want to reduce NHS costs and encourage exercise?

This progress will require physical activity expertise in every GP surgery. Why not prescribe exercise at every meeting? Of course, there are circumstances when exercise might not be best advised. Further reading at has advice and ideas for exercising, including a flowchart to check whether it is OK to exercise.

BASRaT’s Exercise Guides

BASRaT is the UK regulator for Sport Rehabilitators and an advocate of improving health through Physical Activity. BASRaT’s Guides to Exercise could inspire you to try something new. Check out our guide to running or cycling to discover the type of cycling that could suit you.

Next article