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The fitness industry has a critical role to play in healthcare says a new report.

The UK government should encourage – and make it easier – for doctors and other health and care professionals to refer people to fitness facilities to reduce pressures on the health service.

A report launched today (12 January 2022) calls for health clubs, leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools to serve more people through the mechanism of social prescribing.

Called Leading the Change: social prescribing within the fitness and leisure sector, the report outlines recommendations to members, partners and policymakers for growing the sector’s role in the health system.

Published by the UK Active Research Institute, it makes four key recommendations to develop and grow social prescribing.

These include raising awareness over the role of physical activity facilities and the social prescribing opportunities they offer in managing people's long-term health conditions.

The report also calls for more leisure facilities to be connected to existing community networks – to provide more opportunities for cross-sector partnerships – and for the sector-wide measurement of social prescribing to be aligned to NHS England’s Common Outcomes Framework.

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active, says the fitness and leisure sector already plays a "major role" in community healthcare, by providing rehabilitation from COVID-19 and cardiac, pulmonary and musculoskeletal conditions, as well as delivering 66 per cent of the nation’s cancer prehabilitation and rehabilitation services.

“As our health service comes under even greater pressures and the backlog for treatment grows, it's essential we look differently at how healthcare-related physical activity could be delivered in gyms and leisure centres within our communities," Edwards said.

“We publish this report at a critical moment for the future of our nation’s health, happiness and wellbeing and we must ensure every gym, pool and leisure centre is supported to survive the current financial crisis to fulfil their essential role in preventative health.

“Our findings indicate a strong desire and huge potential to expand social prescribing delivery within the fitness and leisure sectors, but we will need the full support of the Government and its agencies to support our sector, unlock the appropriate funding mechanisms, and raise awareness of these services in our facilities.

“We'll continue to work tirelessly with our partners in the health and social care world so we can realise the full potential of social prescribing within our sector and achieve our shared ambitions.”

Social prescribing connects people to community support in the fitness sector, based on what interests them, and helps address issues affecting their health and wellbeing.

Working alongside GPs, social prescribing link workers connect people to activities such as fitness groups, swimming, walking, dancing and running – depending on what the person likes and what will benefit them.

James Sanderson, CEO, National Academy of Social Prescribing, said: “Physical activity is often described as a ‘wonder drug’ because of the wide range of health conditions it can help prevent or treat. But for many of us, there are barriers to participating in sport or fitness activities – and that’s where social prescribing can make a real difference.

“This report demonstrates some of the good work that’s already happening in this area, but it’s also clear that there’s more to do to raise awareness about social prescribing in the sport and leisure sectors, and to ensure that providers have the resources and knowledge they need.

“We look forward to working with ukactive and other partners to help providers connect with social prescribing link workers and community groups. By working together, we can ensure that more people can get active in a way that meets their needs and preferences.”


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