Getting out of bed in the morning is not always something people look forward to. For 50-year-old David Gavin in Onerahi, the pain from a morning stretch can be excruciating.

Thirty years ago, Gavin was diagnosed with polyarthritis - a condition where nearly all joints in his body suffer from the effects of arthritis. It is a hereditary condition; nearly all his family suffers.

Gavin would often spend days in bed, barely being able to walk to the bathroom, but with the right medication and an active health management plan called the "Green Prescription", his quality of life has turned around.

"When I'm in this pain it just feels like my joints are being crushed in a vice, it was unbearable," Gavin said.


"I couldn't even butter my own bread and when you can't hold a knife to butter your bread or peel a potato, it's pretty bad."

The Green Prescription is a health professional's written advice to a patient to be physically active, as part of the patient's health management. This included managing diet and nutrition to ensure a healthy lifestyle.

Gavin was referred to Sport Northland's Green Prescription programme by his doctor after he was told surgery was need to fuse his ankles to try and alleviate the pain. Looking for another option, Gavin went about making the changes which saw him lose 16kg in less than four months.

Thanks to this process, he has been able to walk up and down his front steps to his garage and back and forth from his local dairy multiple times a day.

"It's mainly about just getting motivated every day because when it was bad, I just didn't want to get out of bed."

He has been unable to work for about four years and as a separated parent with four children to support, things had been tough.

"Everything gets to you. Stress, (thoughts of) suicide, everything. Especially if you lying in bed, you can't walk to the toilet and you need to get someone to help go to the toilet."

He had struggled asking his children for help because of the effect it could have on them.

"You think about how you become a burden to yourself and a burden to your children. You're lying there you can't move, you want to ask for help but you don't want to upset them."

Since his health had improved, Gavin said his children realised what transformation he has gone through.

"When they see that I'm walking now, they're just blown away. My oldest boy, Levi (28) comes out and checks on me all the time and the last time, he put his hand on my shoulder and just said 'keep it up'."

Gavin's change of lifestyle has not come without sacrifice. He has had to give up his beloved homemade mayonnaise for French dressing and butter has been replaced by avocado.

Thanks to these changes, Gavin has a new lease on life. In addition to his walking, Gavin does exercises every day, he gardens regularly and even goes out to fish in his boat in the harbour.

David Gavin needs to do 30 minutes of stretches in the morning so his joints don't seize up. Photo / John Stone
David Gavin needs to do 30 minutes of stretches in the morning so his joints don't seize up. Photo / John Stone

"I've got to be active now or else I won't be and I'm carrying on the best way I can. I'm taking it slow and not pushing myself. I know how strong I am but I want to listen to the people who help me because I want to be where I am today which is healthy."

Sport Northland's healthy lifestyle support person Tania Heap said people like Gavin were truly inspiring.

"From day one, his attitude was fantastic. Leaving all excuses behind, Dave had the courage to jump in with both feet and commit to the programme," she said.

"The outstanding results for Dave are truly life changing and we couldn't be prouder of where he is now heading."

Arthritis New Zealand health advice and research manager Cathie Morton said Green Prescription was among the best ways to help people with arthritis.

"The Green Prescription system has been one of the biggest gifts to the arthritis community in modern time."

Morton said while it was difficult to convince people with arthritis to get outside and be active, the programme was showing a lot of promise.