In a bid to improve the health of Brits, the government is looking for innovative ways to promote healthier habits.
Social activities, such as walking, wheeling, and cycling, are now entering doctors’ prescription lists. As of August 22, GPs can now offer social prescriptions to patients, including adult cycle training and taster sessions, free bike loans, and walking groups. The initiative, launched on a trial basis, is backed up by £12.7 million in funding to 11 local authority areas in England, where various projects that support the social schemes will be developed.
900,000 people have already been referred to social prescription schemes in the UK. Here is why social prescribing could become the next big thing in healthcare.
Fusing physical and mental well-being
The social prescriptions outlined in the new government scheme are all centred around staying active in a social setting. This is a proven, tested recipe for improving both mental and physical well-being.
Walking, cycling, and wheeling have a range of benefits for our health. Adults are recommended to have at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, and what better way to hit the goal than going out in nature and enjoying a stroll with a group of friendly people or putting on your road bike helmet and tackling the city on a bike. This can reduce the risk of a heart or circulatory disease by as much as 35%.
By increasing your heart rate while exercising, you’re also improving your brain function. Cycling, in particular, stimulates the release of endorphins and other mood-enhancing chemicals, including serotonin and dopamine. It’s a sure way to feel more positive and calmer, acting as an anti-depressant. Your learning capabilities, memory, and cognitive function are also enhanced by cycling.
The social aspect of the new government scheme also helps improve mental well-being. While supported by other people in the scheme and by health professionals. Social connection is a key component of well-being, and the scheme aims to foster that. Plus, you’re more likely to stay motivated when exercising in a group and having someone to share your experience and progress with.
Reducing GP appointments and reliance on medication
The use of prescription drugs is rising every year. In 2011-12, 850 million prescription items were dispensed in community pharmacies in England. That number significantly rose to 1.043 billion ten years later.
While prescription drugs are necessary in many cases, there are certain situations when such use can be avoided if precautions are taken earlier. The physical activity presents a great opportunity to tackle ailments and diseases in their tracks before resorting to medication.
Plus, social prescriptions are a free way to boost your physical and mental health, which comes in handy during this cost-of-living crisis. Not only are patients saving money on expensive prescriptions and medications, but so is the government financing the supply of such drugs.
Overcoming economic barriers
Some people can’t get into cycling due to budget restrictions. The social prescription scheme aims to overcome that by providing free bike loans and encouraging taster biking or cycling sessions in a group setting.
GPs can also link patients with charities, which are more than willing to connect them with the right support groups and help them on their healing journey.
Promoting sustainable transport
Walking, wheeling and cycling as a means of transport are great ways to help reduce carbon emissions and promote a greener environment.
Cycling has a carbon footprint of about 21g of CO2 per kilometre. That’s ten times less the emissions from driving. Additionally, a 2022 study found that 24.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from cars could be avoided every year in England by using electric bikes. The new scheme has the potential to ignite interest in new people to take up cycling and incorporate it into their daily commute, thus sustaining the environment.
Commenting on the new government policy, the then-Walking and Cycling Minister, Trudy Harrison, said: “Walking and cycling has so many benefits – from improving air quality in our communities to reducing congestion on our busiest streets.”
Taking a holistic approach towards health and well-being is paramount for improving the healthcare system in the UK. Social prescriptions have the potential to cure diseases in their first stages, thus avoiding the use of medications. Plus, they’re a fun way to stay active and meet new people!