New toolkit supports GPs to boost patients' physical activity

A new toolkit that helps time-poor GPs discuss physical activity more with their patients has been produced by the RCGP and Sport England.

Physical activity (Photo: Javier Snchez Mingorance/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The Physical Activity and Lifestyle toolkit encourages practitioners to bring up conversations around activity and lifestyle with patients.

It contains a comprehensive selection of condition-specific, professional-facing information that can be used by all healthcare professionals.

This includes a link to the Moving Medicine website, which provides a step-by-step guide to fit conversations with patients about physical activity into one-minute, five-minute or longer time slots.

Steps to increase activity

The toolkit was launched alongside a new Active Practice Charter, which aims to inspire and celebrate GP practices taking steps to increase activity and reduce sedentary behaviour in their patients and staff.

The tool is available to all 8,000 GP practices in the UK, and aims to raise awareness of simple changes that can be made to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of patients and staff.

Possible actions that GPs can take include signposting to local exercise classes or partnering with a nearby activity provider.

'Active' practices 

The charter outlines the key principles of what it means for a practice to be ‘active’, and the steps GPs and their teams can take to achieve this.

It builds on an existing initiative where GP practices were encouraged to develop closer links with their local parkrun to become certified ‘parkrun practices.’

To become an ‘active practice’ and receive a certificate recognising their status, surgeries will demonstrate that they have taken actions including: 

  • Increasing physical activity in patients and staff
  • Reducing sedentary behaviour in patients and staff
  • Partnering with a local physical activity provider to support the practice to get more people active

Barriers to discussion

The initiative to get practitioners to speak more about the benefits of physical activity is supported by research from the Health Survey for England, which found that one in four patients said they would be more active if it was recommended by a GP or nurse.

While many GPs already promote physical activity, some identified barriers to prescribing exercise or discussing physical activity, including not having enough time in the consultation to have effective conversations with patients.

It is hoped that the charter and supporting toolkit will help practitioners - short for time - to bring these conversations up with patients and offer them direction.

Taking the time

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard backed the initiative and its benefits.

'All GPs know that encouraging patients to be more active can have huge benefits on their health and wellbeing and, in some cases, drastically improve conditions such as diabetes and heart disease - even dementia,' she said.

'But having the time to advise patients on lifestyle in the current 10-minute consultation can be a huge challenge, especially when there are often so many other things we need to discuss.

'So taking a practice-wide approach to encouraging healthier lifestyles, for all of us, is a great idea.'

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