The treatment is limited at present to patients with long-term illness such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and cancer but increased fitness has been shown to give significant improvement including lower anxiety, less pain, and improved blood pressure.
Patients will be offered specially designed sports sessions with trained sports therapists involving activities that are adapted to their condition.
In Strasbourg, the trials were more widespread and extended to patients suffering obesity, high blood pressure, type two diabetes and cardio-vascular illness. In all, about 1,100 patients have been involved.
They showed particular effectiveness when the patients were offered free use of bicycles and saw real improvements in their conditions, including less need for drug treatments.
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The law was piloted through parliament by former sports minister Valérie Fourneyron, a socialist MP from Seine-Maritime. A doctor qualified in sports medicine, she said: “In the past, diabetics were often told not to do sport, but it can be therapeutic. So as well as training doctors, we have to educate patients to understand that sport can be an important part of treatment.”
Sports from jogging and archery through to yoga and gym sessions – although not in traditional fitness gyms – are offered and the prescribing doctor will suggest activities that may help. The final choice will be made with the patient.
Funding for the treatments is not covered by the law, which comes into force today, but payment is organised at a local level, with sessions organised by local authorities or associations and with some mutuelles such as Maif refunding costs.
Ms Fourneyron said that for too long France had ignored the consequences of the increase in long-term ailments and this was a non-medical, low-cost treatment that showed results.
In 2015, France had 10 million patients being treated for long-term illness, the highest ever.
The World Health Organisation says a sedentary couch-potato lifestyle is a major public health risk and is the fourth most important factor in early death – with 3.2million deaths a year due to lack of exercise. It adds that fitness activity can cut risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, breast and bowel cancer plus depression.
See our previous articles on ‘sport on prescription’ a topic we have been covering since 2012.