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We GPs need to walk the walk to get our patients active

Dr David Turner

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One You is the latest idea to be piloted by Public Health England in an attempt to get the population more active.

It involves GPs giving patients an ‘exercise prescription’ – not a totally new idea in itself, but the advice we give is supposed to be more tailored to the individual patient.

So we prescribe exercise for a specific condition and in specific ‘doses’ for example: ‘I recommend you should get moving for at least 10 minutes a day to improve your diabetic control.’

There is no doubt the UK is a lazy nation. Shockingly, on average, we Brits exercise even less than Americans. There is also now strong scientific evidence to show that exercise independently reduces the risk of cancer and a lot of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

We should try to make cycling and walking the norm for short journeys

While I applaud any attempt to make the population move a bit more I can’t help thinking this is yet again asking GPs to sit at the top of the iceberg of inactivity chipping fragments off with cheap tea spoons.

Like the 5p plastic bag charge, which changed the nation’s behaviour overnight, we need radical government action if we really want to make the population more active.

GPs giving out brief advice at the end of already packed 10-minute consultation is like micturating into a hurricane. What could central government do instead? Well if we look at The Netherlands, which has one of the most active populations in Europe and where people are generally healthier than us, we see they have an infrastructure that positively encourages walking and cycling and a culture where riding a bike is seen as ‘normal’. Restricting car access to town and city centres, proper cycle lanes and priority lights for cyclists at junctions would be a start.

I’m a realist and I don’t expect every UK city to become like Amsterdam overnight, but we should try to make cycling and walking the norm for short journeys and taking the car a last resort.

As someone who has walked or cycled to work most of my career I am very much aware that not using a car to go everywhere is still seen by many to be at best eccentric and at worst as weird. We need to challenge this and normalise cycling by riding in everyday clothes on ordinary-looking bikes to the shops.

The lycra-clad fanatics on carbon fibre frame bikes unfortunately do not help to make cycling attractive to the unfit majority. So yet again making myself unpopular with my colleagues, I’m going to suggest we try to walk, run or cycle to our surgeries more, only taking the car on days we’re doing visits - and leaving our bikes, trainers and outdoor clothes in our rooms for patients to see.

Let’s educate the population that non-motorised self-propulsion can and should be totally normal by example. Do what I do, not just what I say could be our new maxim?

Dr David Turner is a GP in north west London

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Really a public health issue and as stated huge infrastructure investment needed in cycle lanes, not an 80cm painted lane ignored by drivers at will. I have a 30 mile commute so need carbon and lycra, it is clearly visible to all drying on radiator in consulting room, not sure if this is a positive message!

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  • There are GPs who have days when they don't do visits? How the other half lives! I do lots of sports, including Lycra-lout cycling, and would contend that a GP's effectiveness as a doctor is totally unrelated to their personal exercise habits. You'll be suggesting that we start making every alternate drink in the pub a soft drink next.

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  • I could cycle to work, but I would have to reduce the number of patients I see due to extended travel times and showering etc.

    I would also have to factor in the impact to patients' appointments whilst I recover from clavicle, radius or tibial fracture after I get run over or run into a pothole.

    I suppose the follow up article is suggesting a pleasant walk in all the 'spare time' after lunch!

    (To be fair I note that working as a GP is generally bad for one's health and the real answer is to do less of it!)

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  • Leave the car at work for visits......

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  • Surely we walk miles on the golf course each day?
    How about significant subsidies for gyms and not building on all the remaining sports fields that aren't already closed.

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  • Perhaps city-based GPs could do the visits by bike too, and not bother with the car at all.

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