On yer bike: why doctors are prescribing cycling instead of pills

A pilot free-bike-ride scheme in Wales is part of an effort by medical professionals to give patients alternatives to drugs

Doctors in Wales can now prescribe free bike rides to encourage people to exercise under a pilot programme. Photograph: Tom Jamieson/The New York Times

Doctors in Wales can now prescribe free bike rides to encourage people to exercise under a pilot programme. Photograph: Tom Jamieson/The New York Times

 

A new programme in Wales will allow family doctors to offer patients an unusual prescription for better health – bicycles.

The pilot programme, the first such initiative in Britain, according to the health board that is leading it, reflects an effort by medical professionals around the world to give patients alternatives to drugs in order to avoid side-effects and improve cost efficiency.

Patients at two medical centres in Cardiff will be offered six-month subscriptions to a bike-rental service that allows them to make unlimited free rides of up to 30 minutes at a time, and officials hope to expand the scheme.

“For the first phase of the pilot, we want to make sure the scheme works as intended and is easy to use for patients and their health professionals, so we’ll be seeking feedback from participants,” Dr Tom Porter of the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said in a statement. “If the approach proves successful, we’ll look at making it more widely available across the city.”

Recent research supports the idea that exercise can be considered medicinal, and studies have shown its efficiency, comparable to drugs, in treating conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity.

Britain introduced an exercise prescription framework in 2001, allowing doctors and nurses to refer patients for supervised physical activity at centres and gyms. More recently, a new course at Loughborough University in England was created to educate exercise scientists, with the goal of getting them the accreditation necessary to issue prescriptions within Britain’s NHS.

“If you think about the pharmaceutical industry, it’s designed not necessarily as curative, but to treat the symptoms,” says Dale Esliger, the leader of the Loughborough programme. “And, of course, the side-effects of exercise are generally positive.” – New York Times

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