Can exercise and a healthy diet replace medication? This is the future in chronic disease prevention.
A new Zhiva study, Green Prescriptions – An Innovative Tool for Lifestyle Change, Prevention and Behavioral Management of Cardiovascular Disease, proves that sometimes the best medicine is a healthy diet and a dose of physical activity. We based the idea on a practice that already existed in New Zealand in 1998. Today it is a recognised and effective part of the national health strategy.
The Green Prescription is most commonly prescribed by a doctor or nurse, either as prevention or as a way of managing chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. It is an adjunctive intervention to pharmacological treatment.
The original name green prescriptions comes from the English version of the project, but in our design, after considering various options, we decided to use the name ‘Recept Zdravia’ (Prescription for Health).
How it could work
A patient comes to the doctor with his/her health problem. In addition to medication, the doctor prescribes a green prescription, a lifestyle change support programme. The patient is contacted by a trained staff member, called a health coach, who helps the patient set goals, for example for physical activity or eating habits. The health coach supports the patient in long-term change, so it is not just a once-off intervention, but continuous support over several weeks to months.
Front page of proposal
Back page of proposal
The green prescription encourages the patient to gain control of their health and behavioural approaches, motivate them to increase physical activity, and improve their eating habits. This can become a reality in Slovakia.
Green prescriptions are used not only in New Zealand, but also in Canada, for example, where patients are prescribed to spend time in nature. In England, they are testing a pilot of green prescriptions through their post-pandemic recovery plan, and in Japan, doctors have been recommending a stay in the woods (Shinrin-yoku) since 1982.
We at Zhiva are involved in designing a similar concept for Slovak patients. However, we view green prescriptions more holistically, we do not focus only on being in nature or physical activity, but on overall behavioural change. During the summer months, research interviews and questionnaires on this topic were conducted with doctors, pharmacists and patients – i.e. potential participants in such a programme.
Advantages of Green Prescriptions
The result should be a relieved burden on the health worker and a structured implementation of prevention in at-risk populations.
What can be achieved with the green prescriptions:
- Improve cholesterol levels
- Improve blood sugar levels
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Less stress, anxiety and depression
- Reduce blood pressure
- Better quality sleep
- Better flexibility, mobility, independence
- Reduce risk of some cancers
- Reduce risk of falls
Participants who completed the program in the past 2 to 3 years (2016 study) reported 64 more minutes of total physical exercise per week compared to those who dropped out of the program. They also had a less sedentary lifestyle.
The proposed Slovak green prescription service is currently in development, but if you’re interested, we’d be happy to talk more about it.