It’s a fact – One in five Canadians experience a mental illness or addiction problem making it the leading cause of disability in the country. Furthermore, Canadians in the lowest income group are three – four times more likely than those in a high income group to report poor to fair mental health, with many relying on their family physician for mental health support.
The solution? Get moving. “According to the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatment, physical activity and exercise are primary forms of treatment for mild to moderate depression,” says Jeff Tareta, Program Director for Prescription to Get Active (RxTGA). Since 2011 the Alberta company has been promoting the benefits of physical activity as a means to prevent and treat many illnesses and chronic diseases. Partnering with health care practitioners and fitness professionals, individuals who exercise less than 150 minutes a week can get a prescription from their doctor, nurse practitioner or specified health professional, register with Prescription to Get Active and have access to a myriad of movement, exercise and support services.
“We are the connector between primary care and recreation with a goal of getting people physically active and then hopefully getting them to continue in the long term,” Tareta says.
Pre-COVID, many registrants were able to fill their prescription with a trial access at participating recreation facilities, but RxTGA has had to adapt and are offering more resources including online free trials (video-on-demand) and a free six-week getting starting guide: an app to keep participants moving. “With fitness facilities closed, going online gives them the option to be physically active in a safe environment,” Tareta explains. “We have partnered with Go Get Fit on the app and with it can offer remote support which can schedule your activity, send reminders and then does a follow up after exercise. It is a great motivating tool as it records all of your data.” With the increase in tele-health, registration can also be done with virtual prescriptions.
In 2019 over 2,100 registered for RxTGA programs, 75 per cent used recreation facilities as a free trial with 20 per cent continuing to use the facilities. Eighty per cent said that having access to a fitness facility increased their activity levels, and 82 per cent reported they saw health benefits because of RxTGA. Thirty three per cent of RxTGA registrants have a low level of household income. “This is actually positive for our program. RxTGA is attracting those in the population who may not be benefitting equally to health resources.”
Michelle Carey turned to RxTGA when she left her job and was under considerable stress. “Through my time with the get active program, I was able to start a self-care routine that has expanded over the years and has helped to improve my self-esteem, my physical and mental health. I found the program and its leaders extremely helpful, approachable and fun. I did have fun on my walks and at the gym and I would highly recommend this program for anybody considering it.”
Movement and Exercise is the single most important thing that people can do to enhance their brain’s function and resiliency to disease.SANJAY GUPTA, NEURO SURGEON
“It improves mood and energy, reduces stress, sharpens the mind, staves off depression and dementia, improves sleep and reduces risk of over 25 different chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease with no negative side-effects,” says Tareta.
Prescription to Get Active has partners in Ontario and Manitoba with further plans to expand to other provinces. They are also working on a ‘no cost low cost’ program with communities focusing on outdoor activities such as walking, hiking and skiing.
Finding partners to work with has never been an issue. Each health care sector and recreational facility – called chapters – act as an advisory board and RxTGA has the full backing of Alberta Health which helps fund the programs. “Alberta Mental Health and Addictions has also stepped up with funding from a special community grant that was offered because of COVID. This will enable us to offer an additional free month of activity online,” says Tareta.
Health care professionals are very supportive of Prescription to Get Active. “Many of my patients who require exercise cannot afford a gym membership. Financial strain is always a big barrier when it comes to making a major lifestyle change. Especially in light of promoting preventative medicine, this allows my patients with chronic medical conditions or risk factors to take control over their health,” says Dr. Christine Kang.
With the physical activity options and the support and results that RxTGA is getting in the community Tareta knows their model is working for them. “Why wouldn’t anyone want to be physically active knowing you can reduce chronic diseases and improve brain function? You can grow your brain and help the decline of dementia by being physically active.”
How does it work?
Talk to your doctor and their healthcare team about getting a Prescription To Get Active.
Record your prescription at prescriptiontogetactive.com. Opt-in for the newsletter to get motivation sent right to your inbox.
Find helpful resources and activity ideas on this website to learn how to get moving more.
Fill your RxTGA for free access offers at participating facilities, online programs and remote coaching.