Prescribing social activities could have the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of people with long-term conditions, researchers say.
The concept of ‘social prescribing’ is where healthcare professionals refer their patients to non-medical, community activities.
In this research, activities such as gardening, dancing or volunteering as part of a club were shown to be “successful for patients who engaged with the service”.
The study, based on the Ways to Wellness programme in Newcastle and conducted by Newcastle University, helped people lose weight and became less anxious and isolated.
People with conditions including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease were all eligible for the scheme.
Dr Suzanne Moffatt, who took part in the study, 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.”
The researchers added that some participants with diabetes reported having better blood sugar control due to their weight reduction and increased fitness.
However, the researchers only interviewed 30 of the 2,400 people who have been through the programmen, and cannot be sure that the experience of the 30, whilst positive, are indicative of the rest who used the service.
They concluded: “This model of social prescribing, which takes into account physical and mental health, and social and economic issues, was successful for patients who engaged with the service.
“[Our] findings suggest that tackling complex and long-term health problems requires an extensive holistic approach not possible in routine primary care.”
The study was published in the online journal BMJ Open.

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