The effects of exercise referral schemes in the United Kingdom in those with cardiovascular, mental health, and musculoskeletal disorders: a preliminary systematic review

Nikita Rowley, Steve Mann, James Steele, Elizabeth Horton, Alfonso Jimenez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)
63 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Exercise referral schemes within clinical populations may offer benefits for inactive and sedentary individuals, and improve and aid treatment of specific health disorders. This systematic review aims to provide an
overview, and examine the impact, of exercise referral schemes in patients with cardiovascular, mental health, and musculoskeletal disorders. This review focuses on populations within the United Kingdom (UK) only, with an aim to
inform national exercise referral policies and guidelines.
Method: Data was collected from specific sources using validated methodology through PRISMA. Systematic searches were performed using Locate, PubMed, Scopus and Pro Quest: Public Health databases. Thirteen studies
met inclusion criteria set for each sub group. This included that all studies aimed to prevent, observe, or decrease ill-health relating to the disorder, participants over the age of sixteen, and health disorders and outcomes were reviewed. All studies were conducted in the UK only.
Results: In the 13 articles, a variety of modes and types of exercise were utilised. One-to-one supervised exercise sessions based in a gym environment were most frequently employed. Results showed that longer length schemes
(20+ weeks) produced better health outcomes, and had higher adherence to physical activity prescribed, than those of shorter length (8–12 weeks). In patients referred with cardiovascular disorders, cardiovascular-related
measures showed significant decreases including blood pressure. Schemes increased physical activity levels over the length of scheme for all disorders.
Conclusion: Longer length schemes (20+ weeks) improved adherence to physical activity prescribed over the course of the scheme, and could support longer term exercise adherence upon completion, however additional research on larger samples should examine this further. An implication is that schemes currently recommended in guidelines do not tailor programmes to support long term adherence to exercise, which must be addressed. There is currently a lack of research examining programmes tailored to suit the individual’s health conditions thus further research might allow providers to tailor delivery and build upon policy recommendations in the UK
Original languageEnglish
Article number949
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


  • Exercise referral schemes
  • Physical activity
  • Cardiovascular
  • Mental health
  • Musculoskeletal


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