07/09/2021 Social prescribing could help reverse global decline in physical activity

Social prescribing could help reverse global decline in physical activity

Best-practice guide shows how social prescribing can help to reverse global decline in physical activity by connecting us to activities in our area

  • We all know that teamwork, determination and feeling connected to other people are just some of the ways that taking part in sport contributes to good physical and mental health. But for many people, a decision to do more physical exercise is not as simple as wanting to have more of these good things in their lives.

Sport England’s 2019-20 Active Lives Adults survey showed that higher socio-economic groups are more likely to be active than lower socio-economic groups. Financial worries, health fears and caring responsibilities can make it harder. Research SportEngland carried out with Savanta ComRes in July 2021 also revealed an emotional barrier – with a third of adults saying they are too tired, and a quarter say they aren’t fit enough.

This isn’t just a problem in the UK. Research published in the Lancet found that globally, physical activity is in dangerous decline. 

This is where social prescribing comes in. Social prescribing offers a way for people to be connected to activities in their community, such as sport, through a social prescribing link worker or other healthcare professional based in a GP practice. Link workers have time to build trusting relationships, understand what truly matters to the person, create a shared action plan and introduce people to community support.

A guide for health systems around the world

The new Playbook from the Global Social Prescribing Alliance (GSPA) explores how social prescribing can help people to get moving and connect with their communities. It provides a best-practice guide on how this approach can be adopted, inspiring new champions of health and wellbeing. Its focus is on what matters to individuals – a holistic view of a person’s needs and strengths. 

Examples in the UK of exercise on social prescription include the Robin Hood Health Foundation Prescribe to Thrive Partnership that aims to improve the physical and mental health of 100 residents. Open water swimming, cycling, cooking and walking football are all on the agenda for carers groups in Portsmouth, through the YOU Trust Thriving Coastal Communities. Culture Coventry – Go Connect and Go Wellbeing brings together expertise in health, physical activity, culture, and the voluntary sector to create a support system for 1200 people.

It’s not only physical wellbeing that is addressed by the GSPA. Alongside physical activity, social prescribing focuses on arts, culture and heritage, nature and green spaces, and financial wellbeing.

By sharing best practices and opportunities for improving health and wellbeing worldwide, it is hoped that other nations will be encouraged to get involved – part of a global revolution in wellbeing. The Playbook includes expert guidance and develops the vision set out by global leaders in 2015 at the UN General Assembly, when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were first announced.

“Social prescribing has the power to put health back at the centre of our communities. Through this social prescribing global playbook, we hope to empower and enable partners across the world to implement principles of good social prescribing within their local communities, to tackle health inequalities and keep people healthy and active over the years."
James Sanderson, Chief Executive of the National Academy for Social Prescribing
“The playbook provides us with opportunities to share best practice, knowledge and wisdom. It gives us the opportunity to support our staff with the tools to help them deliver high-quality patient- centred care through shared learning and co-designing solutions that improve people’s quality of life. It is important that we prepare for the future of healthcare (preventing disease, promoting good health & wellbeing, creating societal value) while implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. All of this can be achieved by us working together.”
Gareth Presch, CEO of the World Health Innovation Summit
A group of adults take part in an exercise class
Physical activity can connect people together and improve health and wellbeing


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