Health & Wellness

Apr 10, 2013 2:16 PM by Erin Schermele (Great Falls)

Trails RX program aims to improve health with "prescription" walks

GREAT FALLS - When a doctor prescribes a medication, patients usually follow the instructions given -- but when a doctor makes a behavioral suggestion like quitting smoking or cutting back on sweets, those recommendations are often ignored.

Now some health professionals are experimenting with a new prescription plan that not only promotes exercise, but is also free.

Trails RX is a new program aiming to change the way doctors are prescribing exercise, just as they would with medication.

The program is a collaborative project between Bike Walk Montana, the Recreational Trails Program, and health organizations across Montana.

Thirty minutes of walking a day is the minimum recommended amount of physical activity for adults, but with lack of physical activity one of the three primary behaviors leading to an increase in chronic diseases, health officials says it's clear that not everyone is taking the suggestion.

Alicia Thompson, Cascade County public health officer, noted, "A suggestion from a doctor is totally different from doctor's orders."

Thompson said, "They say, 'You have an need to take this antibiotic twice a day for 14 days.' It's the exact same thing, you have these chronic conditions that we know physical activity will help you to get better. So the physical activity itself is that medication that the patient needs."

Essentially, the doctor will give their patient a choice of taking their medication in one lump sum - one 30-minute walk a day - or three times a day through three 10-minute walks.

Then, instead of a visit to the pharmacy, the patient will get resources on finding trails in the community and mapping out their medical miles.

Thompson said, "This is absolutely a free prescription, if you will. You know the healthcare system, the way that it is set up...we are all pretty much paying into everyone's health. and it hits everyone's pocketbooks."

Missoula is working with their community medical center and is nearly ready to begin the first pilot program of Trails RX.

Other cities also interested in implementing the program include Great Falls, Helena, and Shelby.

Click here to learn more about the program.

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