That’s the view of Professor Cathie Sherrington, Leader of the Physical Activity, Ageing and Disability Research Stream at the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health and the University of Sydney.

“Despite the well-documented benefits of exercise for adults over the age of fifty, as well as those of all ages with physical disabilities, research shows they aren’t participating in exercise and other forms of physical activity at the same rate as the general population,” said Professor Sherrington.

“What’s more, many health care professionals who are in the best position to refer these individuals to appropriate local exercise, sport and active recreation programs don’t regularly do so.”

Sydney Health Partners is now supporting research by Professor Sherrington’s multidisciplinary team into ways to increase recommendations by clinicians to suitable local exercise, sports and recreation programs for patients over the age of fifty and people with disabilities.

So far, the study has found that one of the driving factors behind this lack of referrals is that many clinicians aren’t aware of appropriate, local activities for their patients - and that they lack the time to find out more.

Beyond awareness, for clinicians who see patients with complex physical needs, deeper knowledge of a program may be required for a recommendation to occur.

“While the advantage of clinicians referring patients to exercise programs is that they’re aware of their patient’s needs and can tailor their recommendation to these needs, they have to trust the program - trust that their patient will feel comfortable and that the instructors are suitably trained to deal with their patient’s specific pain or disability needs,” said Professor Sherrington.

The benefits of physical activity are well-documented, with increased participation in physical activity linked to reduced falls in older people and improved ability to undertake daily tasks.

Following consultation with clinicians including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, rheumatologists, and geriatricians, the team will develop training and education resources to improve clinicians’ knowledge of local and suitable exercise programs for their patients.

“In the end, more than education will be needed to change practice - we hope to work with clinicians to identify specific opportunities and help build relationships and trust between the health system and community exercise, sport and recreation providers,” said Professor Sherrington.

“We’ve been really impressed by how keen the clinicians are, and how much they think it should be part of their practice. They just need more structures in place to support them.”

Get involved

If you would like more information about the PROPOSE study please email the study team

If you are a health professional providing clinical care to people aged 50+ and/or children or adults with physical disabilities you can participate in the PROPOSE study’s survey about current practice.