From Gardening to the Gym, "Social Prescribing" Improves Health
People who suffer from chronic conditions are likelier to engage in healthy activities if they have outside support to help them continue, according to a new study.
Researchers from Newcastle University, in the UK, found that a “Link Worker” who provided support and encouragement, as well as helping the subjects decide what activities they wanted to do, contributed to the patients’ success. Activities included gyms, walking groups and gardening.
The in-depth study shows how social “prescribing” of non-medical activities helps people with long term health conditions. It was published in BMJ Open.
Dr. Suzanne Moffatt, Reader in Social Gerontology, said: “The findings demonstrate that social prescribing, such as offering someone with heart disease the opportunity to take part in a gardening club, does work. People who took part in the study said social prescribing made them more active, it helped them lose weight and they felt less anxious and isolated, as a result they felt better.
“This is the first time that these kind of non-medical interventions have been fully analyzed for physical health problems, and the results are very encouraging. What the study also highlighted was the importance of a specific individual, a Link Worker, to help people with issues such as welfare benefits, debt, housing – so they were helping with the whole life and lifestyle which was shown to improve the person’s health and well-being.”
A program, Ways to Wellness, has provided social prescribing with the support of Link Workers since its launch in April 2015.
The study is based on interviews with thirty people from the 2,400 people who have used the service since its start. The participants reported how they had been deeply affected, physically, emotionally and socially by their health problems. They detailed physical effects including pain, sleep problems, side-effects of medication and significant problems functioning. Many explained how this had led to depression and anxiety and how their problems had worsened as they got older.
In the interviews they said that working with a Link Worker to find the right activity and to get support in dealing with financial problems had built self-confidence, self -reliance and independence.
Activities such as gardening, dance clubs and voluntary work helped them lose weight and increase fitness leading to people managing the pain and tiredness better. It also led to them feeling less socially isolated and impacted positively on self-esteem and mental wellbeing.
Participants included those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2), heart disease, epilepsy, osteoporosis and any of these conditions with depression and/or anxiety.
The Link Worker also helps patients to access other support, services and local activities.
Alex Hall, Senior Link Work with Ways to Wellness, said: “The Ways to Wellness service works because it helps our clients take control of their lives, and gives them access to services they may not have been aware of. It’s amazing to see how small steps taken to empower someone can change their lives so drastically.”