This year, social prescribing has made it onto the government agenda with greater force. It is something we have long-advocated for wellbeing in general (as any healthcare professional would), but particularly for women dealing with hormonal imbalance.
What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing has been here for years but not often spoken about. Sometimes referred to as community referral, it is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other health and care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. That can range from art classes and conversations to walking or cycling.
In an article last month, The Guardian wrote:
"GPs around England are to prescribe patients activities such as walking or cycling in a bid to ease the burden on the NHS by improving mental and physical health. The £12.7m trial, which was announced by the Department for Transport and will begin this year, is part of a wider movement of “social prescribing”, an approach already used in the NHS, in which patients are referred for non-medical activities."
It is a practice that's also followed in other countries. For example, GPs in Australia have been known to prescribe 5k park runs to patients. The current UK trial is focused on 11 local authorities with "free bike loans, all-ability cycling taster days, and walking and cycling mental health groups among the pilot projects."
The initiative is widely supported by medical professionals, who know the value of activities ranging from exercise to reading when it comes to all manner of wellbeing issues from mental to physical health.
For example, the Guardian writes: "a survey of more than 1,600 adults by the charity The Reader has suggested 75% of those who read regularly believe it has a positive impact on their mental health."
Social prescribing and women's health
Jennifer Young has included social prescribing in her women’s healthcare talks for a number of years. It is a key area of focus for her and the MPlus brand when it comes to conversations around hormonal balance as well. As a brand, much of our focus is on touch therapies, notably discussing the benefits of acupressure during menopause.
There are lots of lifestyle and non-medical interventions that can make an enormous difference to the experiences that women have during menopause. We are ardent advocates of the trial and error approach to managing hormonal change, finding the right combination of factors to suit individuals, which might be a combination of things such as acupuncture, exercise, a diet rich in phytohormones, skincare, meditation and HRT if it's right for the individual. Two key areas of focus for us are exercise and acupressure:
Exercise for hormonal balance
There is evidence to support the benefits of exercise specifically before, during and after menopause. The National Library of Medicine very much sees hormone therapy as a short-term intervention, while exercise is part of long-term management of the consequences of menopause. In one study they say:
"The exercise program for postmenopausal women should include the endurance exercise (aerobic), strength exercise and balance exercise; it should aim for two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Every woman should be aware of her target heart rate range and should track the intensity of exercise employing the talk test. Other deep breathing, yoga and stretching exercises can help to manage the stress of life and menopause-related symptoms."
They continue, saying: "The problems arising due to the hypo-estrogenic status should be managed by planning a good health program strategy, involving lifestyle modifications [...] Despite all the physiological changes, menopause should not be viewed as a sign of impending decline, but rather a wonderful beginning of a good health program including lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, including yoga and limiting smoking as well as alcohol."
The key benefits of exercise for menopause cited in the study (and in general) include:
- Exercise increases the cardiorespiratory function. If done regularly, it reduces the metabolic risks associated with declining oestrogen. It increases HDL, reduces LDL, triglycerides and fibrinogen. There is an additional benefit of a reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
- Exercise can help create a calorie deficit and minimise midlife weight gain.
- It increases bone mass. Strength training and impact activities (like walking or running) can help to offset the decline of bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis.
- It also reduces low back pain.
- It is proven to help reduce stress and improve the mood.
- It may help to reduce hot flashes, thereby minimising the “Domino effect.”
Acupressure for hormonal balance
At MPlus we commissioned our own research into menopause and the benefits of holistic therapies as part of our Project Menopause Million. It is the biggest global research study into menopausal symptoms ever undertaken and has informed targeted and evidence based development of natural skincare products and hormonal balancing spa treatments.
Acupressure has a broad spectrum efficacy when it comes to soothing the common consequences of menopause and is easier to implement in a therapy context and at home than its acupuncture counterpart. Its appeal for managing menopause is that it helps to address the cause rather than the symptoms alone.
Noting a particular evidence-based systematic review study into the role of herbal medicine, acupressure, and acupuncture in the menopausal symptoms, the National Centre for Biotechnology Information said:
"At the beginning of the creation of such treatment, the researchers believed that the effects were only due to their psychological effects but with further investigation and better understanding of the mechanism of the procedure, it became clear that the effects of acupressure were much greater and deeper than the purely psychological effects. Acupressure balances vital energy by releasing neurotransmitters and hormones which consequently improves the early complications of menopause. The effects of acupressure on menopausal symptoms have been proven"
While these are two specific areas of focus, social prescribing for menopause and other areas of health and wellbeing is an often overlooked and underestimated area of support. Seeing it raised to a national standard is a great step in the right direction.
Find out more about Project Menopause Million