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Exercise: education role for physios

The government must encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles to cut the huge costs and workload of caring for the UK's ageing population.

The warning comes in a report published in the British Medical Journal. Co-author Azeem Majeed, a professor at Imperial College London, told Frontline that physiotherapists and other health practitioners have a big role to play in reinforcing positive messages on exercise, smoking and alcohol. The number of over-65s is predicted to rise by about 53 per cent in the next 25 years. The researchers examined what impact this might have on the number of people living with three cardiovascular disorders.

They say cases of coronary heart disease could go up by 44 per cent, heart failure 54 per cent and irregular heart rhythm 46 per cent. Such increases would have 'important implications' for the NHS, forcing up spending on drugs, diagnostic tests, surgical procedures and regular monitoring of patients. The authors say some of the expected increases in the number of cases 'could be attenuated by people leading healthier lifestyles - but recent trends suggest this may not happen'.

They urge the government to encourage people to remain active and refrain from 'detrimental behaviours' such as binge drinking, smoking and overeating. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure all increase the risk of people developing heart disease. Prof Majeed said: 'Individuals need to be aware of the need to stay healthy. If people don't smoke, don't drink too much and exercise regularly that can have a large impact on their health.'

He added: 'Clearly health professionals can reinforce those messages. There is evidence that even brief interventions can have an impact on those types of behaviours.' He highlighted the success of schemes offering exercise on prescription, where people are referred to a gym funded by local authorities and primary care trusts. Prof Majeed added: 'Certainly physiotherapists would be ideally placed to advise on exercise.'

Further infoprmation

Hennell T, Majeed A [1999]. 'Role of general practitioners in NHS must not be undervalued'. BMJ, 318, 1420.

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