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Exercise to defuse the health time bomb

When at-risk individuals are brought together in a class, they can enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity. Picture: Getty

When at-risk individuals are brought together in a class, they can enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity. Picture: Getty

That scary, first step towards active living can go a long way towards reducing the risks of physical inactivity, says Lynne Irons

What will I wear? It’s the question we’ve all grappled with at some time when faced with a situation in which we want to feel confident, whether that’s a job interview, a party or a hot date.

It’s also one of the most common concerns of somebody about to start an exercise programme, possibly for the first time. Other concerns are – will everybody stare at me? Will I make a fool of myself? Will my health condition make me stand out?

For somebody who has been experiencing failing health, is possibly overweight or has very little time to themselves due to caring responsibilities, attending a fitness class is as alien as ET. Add the low self esteem which often accompanies poor health and obesity, and the thought of going to a gym is downright scary.

Which is why intervention on a compassionate, human level is so vital if we are to defuse the health time bomb which is ticking away in Scotland. With recent research revealing that as much as 10 per cent of the NHS budget is now spent on treating diabetes, the urgency to tackle obesity and inactivity has never been so great.

Edinburgh Leisure delivers a number of funded health programmes in partnership with government agencies, which have made huge strides in recent years. It is a not-for-profit trust which re-invests all monies into services, with the aim of helping communities get active, stay active and achieve more.

This ensures our huge resource of talent and expertise can deliver work which helps wider society in a meaningful way.

Through effective health partnerships with NHS Lothian, City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government, we deliver programmes in which caring fitness professionals work with people across all society who are experiencing or at risk of poor health associated with inactivity, and support and motivate them to enjoy the benefits of exercise through a range of fun, appropriate activities.

We are extremely proud that a group of these partnerships has recently been nominated for the prestigious Flame Awards, our industry’s “Oscars” if you like, in the Healthy Partnership Projects category.

These programmes include Ageing Well for over 50s, Active Lives for adults at risk of marginalisation, Steady Steps for older adults at risk of having a fall, Get Going for children at risk of obesity, and Healthy Active Minds for those experiencing mild to moderate anxiety or depression.

While these groups of people differ in their situations, they all share a health risk which evidence continually shows can be greatly reduced by increased physical activity.

Our objective is to increase participation in physical activity across communities, delivering a real boost to quality of life in Edinburgh and ultimately reducing the financial burden of poor health.

What we bring to the table through our partnerships is the capacity to intervene, motivate and make that scary first step towards active living accessible.

We actively meet with people to understand their lifestyles and the barriers to getting active, and identify what would motivate them.

It’s working. We help individuals feel supported by inviting them to a class with people in a similar situation and offering encouragement from a sympathetic instructor. They realise they are not alone, nobody is laughing at them and they begin to feel less isolated. The financial support also removes a huge barrier for many. At last, participants can start to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity.

With increased fitness and social interaction comes boosted self esteem, often providing the motivation to make healthier choices about diet, alcohol and smoking.

Furthermore, evidence is gathering for the sound economic case for health partnerships. Edinburgh Leisure’s first-ever Social Return on Investment research into the Steady Steps programme concluded that for every £1 invested, there is a return of between £13–£19 in social, health and development outcomes.

Health referrals from GPs are on the increase, revealing a burgeoning need for such partnerships. In the year we welcome the Commonwealth Games to Scotland, it will take more than kindly advice from the GP’s surgery to turn the tide of inactivity. We have a collective responsibility across society to create an inclusive and accessible culture of sport and activity. This is vital to prevent the human and economic crisis of inactivity and poor health. Sometimes this starts with a sympathetic face advising somebody what to wear.

• Lynne Irons is head of projects & funding at Edinburgh Leisure. www.edinburghleisure.co.uk

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