Printed from : LMD

03 May 2016

Exercise vs diabetes
   BY Kate Cracknell

The fitness and physical activity sector has been given another exciting opportunity to prove itself in the preventative healthcare arena: a new NHS-led national Diabetes Prevention Programme called Healthier You.

Personal training on the NHS. That’s the way the national media has been referring to a brand new programme designed to first identify those at risk of diabetes, and then help prevent its onset by offering those people guidance in making appropriate lifestyle changes.

In fact the new Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP), to be known as Healthier You, is far more complex and diverse than these headlines suggest: much of the focus is on diet, weight loss and nutritional advice. However, with PT and group exercise classes very much part of the mix, there’s a significant opportunity for activity providers to play a role and prove their worth to the medical and healthcare partners involved across the breadth of the scheme.

Under the new plans, people found by their GPs to have high blood sugar levels will be referred into the Healthier You programme, where they will get tailored, personalised help to lower their risk of Type 2 diabetes. This will include education on healthy eating and lifestyle, help to lose weight, and bespoke exercise programmes – together proven to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

The programme will initially be offered in 27 areas of the UK, with 20,000 places available. National roll-out is expected by 2020, with 100,000 referrals available each year thereafter.
Healthier You is a joint commitment from NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK, and comes hot on the heels of Public Health England’s One You campaign – another preventative healthcare initiative that encourages those aged 40 to 60 years to reassess their lifestyles, including levels of physical activity.
It seems preventative healthcare has finally come of age. Not only that, but physical activity has a seat at the table.

The reception from the fitness industry has been rightly enthusiastic – but it will have to step up to the mark. Getting the right fitness professionals on-board will be key: Level 3 and 4 trainers who fully understand the nuances of working with this population, and who have a strong grounding in behaviour change (see Health Club Management 2016 issue 5 p11).

It will also need to ensure fitness isn’t elbowed aside by diet in the overall agenda. This is a task ukactive has taken on, engaging with the four health giants tasked by the NHS to deliver Healthier You – Reed Momenta, Pulse Healthcare Ltd (trading as ICS Health and Wellbeing), Health Exchange CIC and Ingeus UK Ltd – to secure real opportunities for operators to get involved.

The fitness sector should also ensure it has a voice in any discussions around the content of the exercise sessions. HIIT was successfully used in the Healthier You pilots, and this form of exercise has been scientifically proven to deliver optimal improvements in diabetes markers – but it can be intimidating even to seasoned exercisers. For those with pre-diabetes, many of whom are starting from scratch in improving their lifestyles, the prospect of HIIT may stop them before they even begin. Getting people to stick with exercise referral schemes is hard enough at the best of times; Healthier You workouts must be pitched at the right level if we’re to stand any chance of keeping people on-track.

Finally, there’s a vital need to look beyond the timeframe of Healthier You, creating an infrastructure that supports programme ‘graduates’ in maintaining their newly formed habits over the long term. The fitness sector is ideally positioned to deliver this, but it needs to package its offering in a sufficiently engaging, motivating and supportive way. If it can achieve this, it has a chance to help people live healthier lives – not just for a few weeks or months, but for life.

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