Physical inactivity today contributes to deteriorating health in many people. An estimated 60% of the global population fail to reach the recommended daily 30 minutes of moderate physical activity.

A study by Matti Leijon at Linköping University in Sweden looks at physical activity in the Swedish county of Östergötland through 12 month follow-ups of people who received physical activity referrals from their health care providers in 2004 and 2005. This concluded that half of the patients had followed the instructions issued in their referrals, a favorable outcome and comparable with other medical prescriptions.

The National Institute of Public Health (Folkhälsoinstitutet) 2001 campaign “Sweden On The Move” promoted prescription of physical activity by primary health care providers, so called physical activity referral (PAR). Yet despite studies supporting the effectiveness of physical activity referrals the uptake has remained limited in Sweden.

A general population survey shows only one in four adults (aged 18-84 years) in Östergötland achieves the daily 30 minutes of physical activity. Many of those who did not reach this target and were determined to change would welcome support in achieving this change. The proportion of people welcoming support from their health care provider increased in groups with poor health -  BMI over 30 or who were inactive.

Most respondents felt their level of physical activity was the main area requiring a lifestyle change. Respondents in most need of increased physical activity were also most likely to welcome support in achieving this, mainly from their health care provider

6300 people received physical activity referrals in 2004 and 2005, two thirds were women and half were aged between 45 and 64. The majority of patients were issued home-based activities such as walking. Twelve months on from the referral date half of the patients had increased their level of physical activity and the proportion of inactive patients had decreased from 33% to 20%.

Matti Leijon says “Half of the patients followed the referral instructions. This is a respectable percentage as it involved a lifestyle change and is on a par with levels of compliance for pharmaceutical prescriptions.”

The study further confirmed the success of physical activity referrals in increasing physical activity in patients in primary care settings.

“We are now at a stage where we have a good grounding on which to develop our methods and increase the effectiveness of PARs. Eventually this could lead to a holistic approach to lifestyle changes involving physical activity, smoking, drinking and diet” says Matti Leijon.

Attached files

  • Matti Leijon, thesis author

  • Full bibliographic information The thesis ‘Activating people – physical activity in the general population and referral schemes among primary health care patients in a Swedish county’ is published by LiU Electronic Press,