February 25, 2014 10:01 pm
Updated: February 25, 2014 10:39 pm

Edmonton-area PCN doctors writing prescriptions to get patients moving

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EDMONTON – Nearly 1,000 doctors in the Capital Region are prescribing something you can’t get filled at the pharmacy: exercise.

Physicians from nine Edmonton-area Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are hoping the ‘Prescription to Get Active’ program will help get some of their patients off the couch and into the gym.

The primary target are adults who are able to safely work out on their own, but who may be at-risk for certain health complications because of their weight.

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“You know diabetes rates, high blood pressure rates, heart disease – it just keeps going up. And we need ways to prevent this – not just to treat this – we need ways to prevent this,” said Dr. Justin Balko, president of the Leduc, Beaumont, Devon PCN.

That’s where the Prescription to Get Active program launched in 2011; its success there has prompted its expansion to Edmonton PCNs.

The prescription given out by doctors details how often – along with how much – activity is needed, and can be taken to 22 local recreation facilities.

Each centre offers different deals, which range from a free one-day pass and tour of the facility to a complimentary one-month membership.

Regine Gross, who’s one of at least 300 people to make use of the prescription, says the program has been life-changing for her.

After leading a sedentary lifestyle for about 25 years, the 44-year-old took the first step toward a new lifestyle three months ago. Since then, she’s lost 25 pounds.

Her first workout lasted only five minutes; now, she spends around two hours at the gym up to two or three times a week; she’s eating a lot healthier as well.

“I feel much better,” Gross said.

“She’s genuinely happy and it’s so nice to see that we could do something without having to give her a pill three times a day. And her future looks so much brighter, just a healthy, happy lifestyle,” said Balko, who is also Gross’ doctor.

The origin of the initiative goes back to the Green Prescription program in New Zealand, where 63 percent of patients reported an increase in their activity level, even six months after getting a prescription; 65 per cent made changes to their diet.

A study in that country showed a written prescription was more effective for patients than verbal instructions alone.

It certainly seems to have given Gross the push she needed; and her lifestyle change may have even inspired her husband and 14-year-old son, who have started eating healthier and are now more physically active.

For those still struggling with making that often difficult first step, Balko’s advice is to just start.

“Getting out for 10 minutes once or twice a week, doing that much more than you did yesterday is the most important part…it snowballs,” Balko said.

“It’s a good feeling and just taking that step tends to pay big dividends for most people.”

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News

© 2014 Shaw Media

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