Helping those who need it the most Ben Roughton
Course Lead for Exercise Referral
Over the past decade, the concept of exercise referral has grown from a relatively minor and understated service to an important and highly relevant provision.
Central to this change has undoubtedly been a better alignment of the medical profession with the fitness community, and such collaborative efforts have led to better standardisation of training and subsequent care of those within an exercise referral scheme.
Much of the success of any exercise referral programme relies on understanding that exercise referral is more than just recommending exercise - it is a multidisciplinary process that involves structured medical and exercise management.
Who can benefit?
There are many people with different medical conditions that can benefit from structured exercise sessions; however many don’t know which way to turn or simply can’t afford to
pay for it.
This is where exercise referral comes in – a specific service where a medical professional
(such as a GP) refers a patient onto a qualified exercise professional.
Used in much the same way as a prescription, exercise now becomes part of a longer term
intervention to help patients manage their condition(s).
How do referral schemes work?
Exercise referral programmes usually operate through funded schemes which are often run by the local council. Exercise professionals wishing to become part of a referral scheme must
hold a recognised Level 3 qualification in Exercise Referral, although many will also hold further advanced Level 4 qualifications (e.g. low back care, obesity and diabetes, cancer care,
Although the GP is still the main route for referring patients, it is increasingly common for allied health professionals to refer patients to an exercise referral scheme.
These may include nurses, physiotherapists, cardiac rehabilitation specialists, endocrinologists, dieticians, mental health professionals, and occupational therapists.
The first exercise referral schemes were set up in the late 1980’s and have had varied success
over the years.
The average length of a scheme nowadays is typically 12 weeks, although some schemes offer a set number of sessions instead. The main focus of any referral scheme should be long term exercise adherence of the patient. As such, systems should also be in place that allow for follow-up checks at 6 weeks and 3/6/12 months.
Reasons for referral
Reasons for referral often include the following medical conditions, all of which may benefit from structured exercise management:
• Cardiovascular conditions (hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia)
• Metabolic diseases (obesity, diabetes)
• Respiratory diseases (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
• Musculoskeletal impairments (osteoporosis, arthritis, low back pain)
• mental health conditions (depression, stress)
Where multiple conditions exist, the exercise professional will have a duty to understand the implications of medication and lifestyle management, and how this potentially affects
The changing face of exercise referral
Exercise referral schemes are moving forward in what activities they can offer to patients.
While individual gym-based exercise is extremely common, there are many other forms
of activity that can be offered including swimming, walking and jogging groups, yoga and Pilates, sport, dance, and other lifestyle activities. Some patients prefer to exercise individually, whereas others prefer to exercise in groups which can have a positive impact on
exercise adherence. Where possible, schemes will offer group-based and condition specific
activities to suit all participants.
Working alongside allied healthcare professionals can not only build a solid reputation
in a competitive industry, but will also serve to increase underpinning knowledge of a
number of key medical conditions.
As more and more research highlights the important role that exercise plays in disease management and prevention, it is an exciting and appropriate time to become qualified in exercise referral.
All Fitness __ Exercise Referral