Lifestyle change puts patients back on track.
Patients who were offered gym membership on prescription instead of more pills and medicine have spoken about how the scheme has changed their lives. Whether suffering from depression, high blood pressure, or multiple sclerosis, people in Llanelli who have piloted the LifestyleChange scheme say it has made a major difference to their quality of living.
The programme is one of several being pioneered across Wales, and it is about to be expanded even further, following positive feedback from participants.
It offers support to people referred by their GPs, providing exercise facilities at local authority leisure centres, nutrition workshops and even a quit smoking service.
So far, the project has treated more than 300 people in Llanelli alone and will be expanded to cover the whole of Carmarthenshire, with all the county's GP practices now involved.
And Welsh Health Minister Jane Hutt said she wanted to see schemes like this stamping out health inequalities all across Wales.
Gaynor Lloyd, 47, could hardly walk up the stairs and suffered from depression and hypertension before being referred to the scheme.
Now she has dropped two dress sizes, can easily jog upstairs and is described as the 'motivator' of Llanelli Leisure Centre.
During one of her regular 90-minute sessions at the gym she does work on the treadmill, bike, and weights.
'Clothes fit me again, I can swim front crawl for the first time ever, and it keeps you going to come here most days,' she said.
'My son Ioan is only 17 but he has a cardiac problem so we are going to go running in the New Year, which I could never have done before.
'He fully supports me because I have stopped buying rubbish now. I am trying to eat healthily as well.'
Jeff Lewis, 60, walks on two sticks and has been diagnosed with the degenerative nervous system condition multiple sclerosis. Yet he still regularly attends the gym on doctor's orders, working out on the exercise bike and weights.
'I heard about the scheme and actually asked the GP to refer me because it sounded good,' said the retired transport manager. 'After the shock of being diagnosed with MS I have to do something positive and look on the bright side.'
And Marion Morris, 55, said she has to try to keep fit for the sake of her three children and four grandchildren.
'I need the energy because I am a full-time granny,' she said.
'I had high blood pressure three months ago when the doctor told me about the scheme.
'I hadn't heard about it but was quite happy to come here, and now I am hoping to come off the tablets soon.'
The Labour Welsh Assembly Government started the Inequalities in Health Fund to tackle the basic health injustices that exist in Wales' less-well-off communities, where people are far more likely to develop serious illness due to poor diet or lack of exercise.
Ms Hutt said, 'Welsh Labour is interested in not simply providing the people of Wales with an NHS that treats ill health but in tackling the root causes of poor health head on.
'We are about giving people every opportunity they need to live healthier lifestyles.
'It is a solution that works for people, helps ease the pressure on our health service and generally makes for a happier, more productive nation.'
Wallace Etheridge, Llanelli gym manager, said, 'When they first arrive they feel it is an alien environment and it is all about making sure they settle into the routine.
'But I would encourage anyone thinking about taking more exercise to do so because if you follow your designated programme, you cannot fail to see positive results.': Exercise fights off ills:The gym is not just for athletic types losing weight or building muscle, and exercise can be used to combat a variety of ills: Depression: Exercise releases serotonin, the mood-enhancing hormone. Arthritis. A report issued in the August 2002 Journal of Rheumatology reports that therapeutic exercise can help reduce pain and improve physical function in people with osteoarthritis.
Coronary problems. A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
Multiple sclerosis. An exercise plan can help people live with MS and resist further debilitation of the nervous system.
Stroke. Exercise can play a transformative role in the way the brain responds to stroke. It can make the difference between being in a wheelchair or not, according to experts who found that through repetitive exercise, the healthy part of the brain can be trained to take over the work of the damaged part.