“Hello! I hope you are all keeping safe and well. Let me introduce myself, my name is Claire and I am a Mental Health First Aid England Instructor, founder of The Mind Map project and The Anxious Exercise Club and, programme lead for the Tricky to Talk programme at Nottingham Forest Community Trust.
I also live with a long-term anxiety condition which I manage day-to-day. Back in 2015, I had a relapse in my long term anxiety condition, which made leaving my home very difficult. Some days, it took all my strength to walk to the car to be able to go to work, and that did not leave me very productive for the rest of the day! I knew that activity and exercise were good for me and that it would ease the symptoms of my mental ill-health. But the anxious voice in my head was a lot louder when telling me that the outside was scary and there was no point in even trying.
Towards the end of 2015, I became more and more unwell, with long-term pain, muscle stiffness and overwhelming fatigue. I was referred to the hospital and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I was given guidance on how to manage my condition and one of the overwhelming pieces of advice was to do more activity. I knew I had to listen to the doctors, but I also still had the anxious voice.
So I made a compromise. I walked to the post box and back. It was about 500 yards and I started doing it once a day. Then I walked to the church just next to the postbox and then onto the bench. Every week, I added a small chunk onto my walk and it didn’t feel unmanageable, even the anxious voice quietened down. I began a circuit each evening, I simply did three or four rounds of the circuit.
This simple activity allowed me to rebuild my life. It wasn’t instant, there wasn’t a miracle cure. I still live with a long term anxiety condition that I manage each day. But I do experience the benefits of what activity can bring to my life and how it helps me to manage my anxiety.
The reason I am talking about this today is that I am finding myself in a very similar situation as we live in the current lockdown situation. I’ve found exercising very difficult due to fear and anxiety. So I wanted to take some time to talk about getting active whilst living with a mental health condition and whilst living in lockdown.
Today, I went for a small walk.
It took some bargaining with the anxious voice, but I felt able to get up a little earlier and take a few steps outside. It wasn’t about distance or the number of steps I completed, it was about breathing and feeling the sunshine. It was about letting my whole body know that whilst these are extremely frightening times, these few small steps can benefit our mental wellbeing and help us to get through this time.
There is lots of information out there currently about how we can get active in our homes, which is fantastic. But it can also be overwhelming, so I hope this post, and future ones, will let you know you are not alone.”
A trial partnership is helping up-skill Nottingham City Council employees to make exercise in Nottingham City more inclusive.
Community Activators have been working across the city for the past sixteen months, signposting people with a disability or long term illness into activities in the community or at one of the city’s eight leisure centres. One of these people, Kelly Evans, has embarked on a newly launched Level 3 Qualification delivered by HFE, the UK’s leading provider of personal training courses and fitness qualifications.
The Level 3 Award in Programming and Supervising Exercise with Disabled Clients, or simply Level 3 Exercise for Disabled Clients, is nationally recognised and awarded by one of the industry’s oldest awarding bodies, YMCA Awards. This means there’s a wealth of opportunity for Kelly to use this course up and down the country .
As one of the very few providers in the country who deliver this course, HFE are well placed to support Nottingham City Council in this new venture to up-skill their staff and serve a demographic that is currently greatly under-represented. Reports suggest that 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability, which equates to nearly 11 million people. Unfortunately, only 18% of disabled adults undertake physical activity lasting longer than 30 minutes a week and this is compared to 38% of non-disabled adults.
Disability sport is highly important to Nottingham. Developing disability sport is a significant priority in the city’s Sport and Physical Activity Strategy (2015-2019); outlined in this is the aspiration to become ‘the fastest growing city for disability sports (physical activity) participation’.
To engage more people living with a disability or long term health condition, Nottingham City Council have taken bold steps in improving accessibility to leisure centres and enhancing the existing swim, gym and fitness offers to be more inclusive. To add to this, leisure centre staff have also taken part in some entry level disability confidence training to enable them to better advise customers who might require additional support.
Clearly, even more can and should be done to encourage disabled people to exercise and that’s why HFE have partnered with Nottingham City Council’s Active Nottingham to help up-skill staff and provide even more inclusive opportunities across their eight leisure centres.
Speaking about the potential of this partnership, Colin Eley said: ‘Working with HFE means we’re able to equip our staff with a more comprehensive knowledge-base to better support people accessing our service. We aim to empower citizens living with a disability or long term condition to feel confident when accessing our services while forming sustainable physical activity habits.”
Kelly, whose Community Activator role covers the Bulwell, Bulwell Forest, Bestwood and Basford wards, is the first Active Nottingham member of staff to take part in the new initiative, and she outlined how excited she was to start a new fitness journey:
“Having always been involved in fitness and sport I am very aware of the mental and physical benefits that exercise can have on people, regardless of where they currently are in their fitness journey.
“I am currently working with individuals who want to become more physically active but who find their long term conditions or disabilities a barrier. For them this means sessions that are perceived as a ‘mainstream’ exercise for all are not always suitable for their needs.
“During this course I am looking forward to learning new skills and broadening my knowledge base so I can better support individuals who have a broader variety of needs with exercise . I am hoping to be able to share this experience and outcomes from the course with other members of my team, so we can adapt and provide a more suitable/focused service for individuals with long term conditions or disabilities in the future.”
The council has just launched a new campaign – It’s For Me – to provide information about the accessibility, suitability and affordability of leisure provision in the city, reassuring citizens that they will be adequately provided for when they visit the council’s leisure facilities and take part in activities.