Why community matters for your health: feeling better with more than medicine

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Many things affect your health and wellbeing. Whilst medicine can treat your symptoms, restoring your quality of life can require a broader approach.

For the times that can’t be fixed by doctors or medicine alone, some people are turning to help in their local community groups for ways they can feel better, together.

What are community groups?

Community groups are any group activity sessions that run in your local area. This can range from exercise classes to painting to pottery - or even just getting together with like-minded people to chat. The idea is that these community groups can actually enhance your physical and mental wellbeing without or supplementing medical treatment.

🌸 Whether it’s choir practice to soothe your asthma, gardening to improve your mental wellbeing, or swimming to help you keep active, there’s something that can suit everyone’s wellbeing needs.

Examples of community groups include:

  • Volunteering
  • Arts and crafts, e.g. painting groups
  • Group learning, e.g. language classes
  • Gardening
  • Cookery
  • Healthy eating advice
  • Sports and fitness sessions, e.g. yoga, swimming, etc.

‘Help that doesn’t come in a pillbox’

Primarily, getting help from community groups is a great self-care tool. As it’s not meant to replace medical treatment, it’s been dubbed a ‘more than medicine approach’ that provides people with the information and confidence to look after themselves in a way that complements the treatment from their clinician.

Who can benefit?

Generally speaking, those who could benefit most from these community groups include people with mild or long-term mental health problems, people who feel socially isolated, or those who frequently attend GP or hospital appointments.

But even if you don’t have a diagnosed condition, you can still join in! Community groups are also shown to prevent ill health in the future, so you don’t have to wait until you’re unwell to start improving your health.

A self-care revolution

When you go for an appointment, your doctor, GP, nurse or other health provider can refer you to these local, non-clinical community groups to help you manage your health. It’s a personalised healthcare initiative called social prescribing (also known as community referral).

The King’s Fund say that because a person’s health is determined by a range of different factors - including financial or environmental - social prescribing can help people in a holistic way. It’s designed to boost the non-medical aspects of health - strong relationships, a feeling of purpose, and maintaining your mental wellbeing.

Money matters

People may have concerns about whether NHS money should pay for these groups and classes, but a lot of these community activities are run by volunteers - so most don’t cost a thing! There are some groups which have a small fee if you want to join, but the large majority are free.

But, do community groups work?

There’s emerging evidence that getting help from community groups can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing results. Studies have found improvements to quality of life, emotional wellbeing, with improved outcomes for depression and anxiety. People involved in these schemes also report high levels of satisfaction, including primary care professionals.

Social prescribing community groups may also lead to less reliance on NHS services. A study of a scheme in Rotherham showed that 80% of patients referred to community groups had reduced rates of NHS usage 3 to 4 months later. They had less incidents of going to A&E, outpatient appointments and inpatient admissions. Another study showed a reduced number of GP appointments following a prescription to a community group.

Let's take a look at the benefits of specific community groups.

Petal power

Gardening has been shown to have benefits for both the mind and body. Heavy lifting can certainly bring on a sweat, but tending to plants is also a great way to work on your posture and maintain balance. This will keep your ankles, hips and lower back strong and flexible. 

Simply being in a garden can equally offer a health boost. Finding tranquility in nature, gardeners appear to have reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So, gardening may even correspond to better sleep!

Singing choir's praises

There's been a mainstream attitude change to choirs in recent years attracting a new crowd to the idea of good communal singalong! In research conducted at Oxford University, group singing is great for forming personal bonds in wider social networks - and quickly too - it's an excellent icebreaker. And isn't that precisely what we need when our interactions are often impersonally communicated through Facebook or email?

Not only is choir practice great for socialising, it exercises the brain and body too. It can help with improving breathing, posture and muscle tension, which is why it may be prescribed to people with respiratory conditions like COPD. As well as this, the act of learning a new song stimulates the brain which can boost memory function. Singing has been evidenced to help those suffering from dementia.

Painting a bigger picture

Several studies, including in the British Medical Journal, point towards using art to support good wellbeing. The research found that art, such as painting, print-making and sculpturing, can maintain wellness and aid recovery from illnesses. The arts can also help with healthcare challenges like ageing, loneliness, long-term conditions and mental health. 

Get connected with Evergreen Life

If you think community groups can help you feel better, you can quickly and easily book a doctor's appointment online with the Evergreen Life app and ask your doctor for a referral to local activities in your area. Join the self-care revolution.

Why not take control of your health today? With the Evergreen Life app and website, everyone in England can book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their GP record online. Download the app now and start your wellness journey.

Written by
Roisin McCann

Article updated:
March 4, 2019
Reviewed by:
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