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Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Exercise sessions 'on prescription'
Rowing machine
Exercise wards off heart disease and other illness
Patients are to be given keep-fit sessions on the NHS as part of a government drive to improve the nation's health through exercise.

Free swimming or weekly access to leisure centres are among the options on offer to patients whose health would benefit.



An increase in physical activity significantly improves health

Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper
The costs will be born by local authorities and health authorities, but ministers believe the schemes could drastically cut bills for treating heart disease and other illnesses.

In some cases a small fee, or the cost of a prescription - currently set at 6 - may be charged.

More than 200 GP surgeries in England already offer exercise on prescription, but the scheme is now to be extended.

In a speech to the Royal College of Physicians, Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper said: "More and more evidence suggests that an increase in physical activity significantly improves health and could prevent many cases of heart disease or strokes.

"But seven in 10 adults are not active enough to get the health benefits."

She added: "We want to encourage more GPs and health professionals to encourage patients to be active, and will be publishing new guidelines to encourage GPs, local authorities and health authorities to set up schemes and ensure that they are effective."

Prevented

Research has shown that a third of coronary heart disease cases and a quarter of strokes could be prevented if people took enough exercise.

Ms Cooper also outlined government proposals to improve access to exercise through a range of initiatives, including physical activity standards in schools and exercise for cardiac rehabilitation.

Last week a report warned that children were at increased risk of premature death from heart disease because they were not getting enough exercise.

The Government has pledged to cut levels of obesity, smoking and heart disease over the next decade.

Patients would only be given the free sessions for a limited period, but ministers hope it will encourage them to take more regular exercise after the prescription stops.

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation, which funds schemes to encourage physical activity including cardiac rehabilitation programmes, said: "An inactive lifestyle is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease so offering free physical activity sessions is a welcome move.

"Research shows that active people are less likely to develop heart disease and that becoming active helps people with the disease to recover.

"More than 70% of people in the UK don't take enough exercise to benefit their health. Just thirty minutes of physical activity such as brisk walking or swimming, five times a week, is enough to significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

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