Lose Weight With The NHS Exercise Referral Scheme

Never too late to exercise

It’s never too late to exercise

If you are overweight you may be able to benefit from the NHS’ Exercise Referral Scheme.

These schemes have been set up to help people get back into exercise after long periods of inactivity. They are generally aimed at those with a medical condition, of which obesity is one.

The Exercise Referral Scheme was developed in 2001 after a report provided evidence that lack of exercise was a growing cause of accidents and ill health. The report highlighted that a lack of exercise is often the cause of the following problems:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Associated risk factors including obesity, hypertension, diabetes
  • Cancer of the colon
  • Falls and accidents, particularly among elderly people
  • Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, negative mood, low self-esteem
  • Musculo-skeletal problems such as chronic low-back pain

Reference: Exercise Referral Systems: A National Quality Assurance Framework – download the pdf

Are You Eligible for the Exercise Referral Scheme?


The NHS has set out some criteria to help determine who can join a scheme. The schemes are managed by county council who work with fitness professionals to arrange for specialist classes at a time convenient to most patients.

To be eligible you need to be suffering from one of these medical conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Depression, anxiety or stress
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmory Disease

This list may be updated at any time so it is best to make an appointment with your local GP to discuss your condition even if it is not on this list.

How Does the Exercise Referral Scheme Work?

The scheme is designed to get you exercising on a regular basis. Research has shown that regular exercise combined with a weight reduction diet is the best way to lose weight, lose dangerous belly fat and become a healthier person. A healthy diet is the most important factor but without exercise long term weight loss is extremely difficult to maintain.

The scheme usually lasts for a few months during which time you will be appointed to a local fitness expert or personal trainer. You will be expected to attend a fitness class 2 to 3 times per week in a group session and also to follow a weight reduction diet plan.

You progress will be monitored throughout the course to ensure that you are getting the most from it. The main goal of the exercise referral scheme is to empower you, to teach you how to exercise on a regular basis and hopefully to find an activity that you are happy to continue to do for many years to come.

Key components to the Exercise Referral Scheme

  • Pre-exercise assessment to determine if you will benefit from exercise
  • Patient consent – you must want to follow the scheme
  • Motivation – you must show signs that you are motivated to get fit
  • Exercise programming for specific health outcomes – e.g. lowering blood cholesterol or improving strength to combat back pain
  • Supervision – you must be supervised and guided and follow instructions from a fitness professional
  • Monitoring – you must be willing to share your progress with your GP
  • Discuss maintenance of physical activity – after the scheme you must discuss how you plan to continue exercising
  • Report outcomes to GP

Examples of Exercise Referral Schemes

The South Wales Argus reported on the 16th September 2010 that local exercise referral schemes in Newport had helped boost patient health.

One of the more popular exercise activities is Zumba, an energetic dance workout. 58-year-old Pat Nelson, of Newport, sufferes from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and osteo-arthritis. She confirmed how the scheme was helping her:

“I’m getting my self-respect back. Long term illnesses can take your pride in yourself away, but I’m not ashamed of not being able to cope physically now. The staff are fantastic and I’ve seen the benefits of this programme after only seven weeks. “

Age is No Limit

83 year old Emily Eversley, also from Newport in Wales, says that the scheme has helped strengthen her muscles and she can now walk with more confidence – “I don’t walk well, but since starting here I’m feeling stronger”.

Healthwise in Hackney

Some councils have branded the Exercise Referral Scheme to make it more appealing to its residents. In Hackney the scheme is called Healthwise. Healthwise assists patients with all the conditions mentioned above plus also obese children from the age of 8 to 13 years. There are many different activities that are working in partnership with Healthwise, such as gym based sessions, aqua aerobics, circuit/body conditioning classes and personal fitness programmes, weight management programme.

EasyStart Exercise Referral Scheme

In mid-Essex nurses and healthcare professionals can refer patients onto the scheme and Essex have partnered with Leisure Centres, local schools and sports centres to provide exercise classes. One scheme in Essex sees patients being referred to 5 Elements martial arts acedemy in Basildon to learn cardio kickboxing to help them get in shape.

Criticism of the Exercise Referral Scheme

When the Government first discussed the options available for the exercise referral scheme Tory MP Ann Widdecombe suggested that people could dance around in their own homes or go for walks rather than have dance classes on the NHS. Fortunately her opinion did not count for much.

You Must Be Committed to Losing Weight

For such as scheme to work you must be committed to losing weight and keeping the weight off. These schemes are not short term crash diets, they are designed to help you to change your lifestyle and reverse the bad habits that you have developed over the years. Only by changing the way you live for the better will you be able to make a permanent change to your weight and your health.

The exercise referral scheme is a fantastic way to start living a healthier life again and will help you to lose your belly fat, improve your posture and may add many years to your life. Your next step is to make an appointment to see your GP.

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