Vida Davies
Attends Lark Lane Classes and Couch to 5K

I am writing this to express my appreciation for the excellent work of the Liverpool 'Healthiness' project. The aims and objective of the project are no doubt well documented elsewhere but this is a personal testimony of my own experience since coming to my first class at Lark Lane almost three years ago.

I begin with some account of my lifestyle before coming into contact with ‘Healthiness’, because I believe it offers a striking contrast with the many positive and life enhancing experiences I have had since becoming a 'service user' of Healthiness.

I returned to my home city shortly after 40 years of living in small semi-rural communities in Derbyshire and latterly Herefordshire; both very lovely, peaceful and friendly places. Lately retired from full time work and with close family living some distance away but with limited income and access to the kinds of social activities I had enjoyed, I felt increasingly bored, isolated and depressed. Consequently, I became demotivated and neglectful of my health; comfort eating, preferring to stay indoors rather than to go out and meet people or to take control to make positive changes in my life. As I became more inactive, my weight increased, my general health deteriorated and my confidence and self-esteem also took a downward turn.

Although there were some opportunities provided for social interaction in the locality, these were directed mainly at an ageing, affluent, middle-class monoculture: a new and increasingly prominent demographic of the country town in which I was living. Although I did attend some of these events, I became increasingly bored and frustrated as they mainly consisted of what could be summarised as sitting for long periods of time to be subject to mediocre lectures and slideshows and most usually followed by a hefty meal (of dubious quality). Members of these groups, glorified lunch clubs, appeared to be stoutly resistant to becoming actively involved in any other way than as passive recipients of a service delivered to them.

However, sustained by fond memories of the city of my birth, I clung on to a dream that one day I would go back and find what would be my personal salvation.

Eventually the move was made back to Liverpool, a city very much changed for the better but where I had few relatives and at that time fewer friends! Fortunately, someone put me in touch with a friend (one who is a wonderful and passionate advocate of ‘Healthiness’), who had also recently returned to the city after a similarly long period of 'exile' as myself.

I was nervous about attending class as I was not in particularly good physical shape and dreaded being left behind, painfully puffing and panting. Neither did I have very good experience of exercise classes or possess a wardrobe full of high status label trainers or sports gear. Most of all, on account of my own prejudice, I dreaded the prospect of participating in any activity which was directed specifically towards 'older people'.

These fears and anxieties dissipated as soon as I joined the very friendly, lively, noisy, joyous and supportive group that is the Wednesday morning keep-fit class at Lark Lane. Sue and other group leaders were helpful and kind. I felt very welcome and I knew at once that this was something very special that I wanted to be a part of. I have continued to attend classes as much as possible since my first day.

During a temporary sojourn in North Wales between house moves, my husband willingly brought me into Liverpool as often as he could, so that I could come to class. He was able to recognise the positive effects the class was having on my physical health and my spirits.

The associates at Healthiness are meticulous in record-keeping and monitoring of progress, they are well-grounded in skills and their knowledge of matters concerning physical health and wellbeing is plentiful and wide-ranging. I was concerned about problems with back pain. However, exercise programmes are adapted for and supervised to accommodate individual requirements. I feel safe in their hands and that while I might be encouraged and challenged, I will not be allowed to compromise my wellbeing or push myself too far (in my case this is not very likely).

'Limitation' is not a word I recall being used very often at our class but 'possibilities', 'goals', 'progress' and 'achievement' are in abundance! We are constantly monitored so we can appreciate the physical benefits of participating in the project. This also keeps us motivated and helps us to take responsibility for our own progress.

I was also concerned that I was frequently stumbling and falling, and this was making me nervous of going out alone. The education sessions made clear why this might be happening and how my muscle tone and balance could be improved. At an additional exercise class, I learned some useful exercises which have proved to be very effective.

Healthiness offers a wide range of affordable activities for physical and mental wellbeing and I try to attend whenever possible; such as regular local park walks and graded rambles further afield, for example to the Lake District. There are annual sports/open days and a splendid Christmas party with an awards ceremony to recognise not only the achievements in terms of physical health, but also acknowledging and celebrating the individuality of class attendees.

All this is without even mentioning the social side or the 'spin –offs' such as Milo's!

Ah, Milo's - the inclusive, informal post-class coffee and chat sessions at the local community pub. Then there are strong friendships forged: the laughter, empathy. love and mutual support which has sustained so many class members in difficult times such as post-bereavement or while coming to terms with serious challenges to their physical and mental health. Spontaneously organised cinema and theatre trips, not to mention the 'Big Birthday' celebrations (60, 70, 80) by way of open invitations to Milo’s of course - but unimaginable without the optimism, energy and 'esprit de corps' that Healthiness has promoted and nurtured.

As for myself, I have lost a considerable amount of weight, and acquired more strength and flexibility than I believed achievable. Now approaching my seventieth birthday, I engage more enthusiastically in physical activity including walking, gardening, yoga, playing football with my grandson and dancing around the kitchen! I no longer live in fear of getting older, nor am I willing to accept 'It’s just your age' as a medical diagnosis… and I have more treasured friends than I have ever had at any time in my life. I still feel anxious and down sometimes, but I know that after an exercise class I will feel a positive change in my mood and if not, I can also have a good old grumble and then laugh away the rest of my cares in Milo’s.

I have also experienced a boost in self-confidence and found the courage to involve myself in a range of activities and voluntary roles I could never have imagined myself doing previous to joining Healthiness.

In conclusion, although I do not claim to know what the 'magic' ingredient is that makes Healthiness work so well, I believe that it is down to much hard work, kindness and mutual respect for all participants by all the staff. At the beginning of this testimony, I used the term 'service user' with caution; as I see it, 'the elderly’ are regarded as a 'them' not an 'us' and generally infantilised, patronised and in danger of being perceived, and perceiving themselves, as 'problematic' in society (as is the case with other identifiable groups) and therefore as costly, ineffective and unproductive 'users up' of valuable resources. Self-worth and a sense of belonging and purpose are characteristics of Healthiness group members.

I now know that what I was looking for before was the opportunity and motivation to improve my own wellbeing, feeling not so much as a 'user' or passive recipient of a service but a willing and active participant, motivated and empowered by good physical health with a strong and positive outlook. I am grateful, pleased and proud to say that being part of Healthiness has given me the opportunity and impetus to do so.

Lynda Whitehead
Attends Lark Lane Classes, Walks for Health and ESCAPE-pain

I am a 69-year-old woman who five years ago was struggling with a badly managed underactive thyroid gland. My symptoms were exhaustion, depression and being overweight. With the support of my husband, I went to see my doctor to talk about this and ask him for a second opinion. I ended up seeing a specialist in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital who spent two years balancing my thyroid.

Once my thyroid was balanced, I then went back to my doctor to ask him for help with my depression. I was then sent to another hospital as an outpatient and whilst attending a meeting there I had the good fortune to meet Sue Arrowsmith from Healthiness who was giving a talk on the benefits of good nutrition and exercise on mental wellbeing. My husband and I then decided to go to the Healthiness Open Day at Lark Lane and see for ourselves what they had to offer. We sampled a few classes and decided to join Boxercise on Wednesday morning. We really enjoyed the exercise and met some lovely people. Socialising and exercising has lessened my depression and increased my energy levels. I have recommended Healthiness to my neighbours who now also attend Boxercise on a regular basis.

I have been attending classes for over a year and have lost two stone in weight and feel a much happier person.

Norma Hughes
Attends Lark Lane Classes, Walks for Health and Couch to 5K

My name is Norma and I am 67 years old. Seven years ago, I was successfully treated for bowel cancer. Four years ago, I had abdominal surgery. A year later (three years ago), I came across Healthiness, just when I needed it most, to help regain my fitness.

I started with the Tuesday walk in Sefton Park, then I started going to the Wednesday and Friday fitness classes at Lark Lane and have been going ever since.

Everyone is treated as an individual and any medical conditions are always taken into account and exercises can be tailored to your needs.

As well as improving my fitness, Healthiness has also improved my social life, reducing feelings of isolation. I have made many good friends and met lots of interesting people. We do things outside the classes together including lots of tea and coffee drinking and meals out.

We enjoy longer walks and days out with the group: to Formby, on the Wirral, Lake District and Delamere Forest to name but a few.

Education classes are held each week, which are very interesting and useful. I have learned a lot about nutrition and the human body, e.g. how muscles work, the importance of balance. The staff are very knowledgeable and friendly. Healthiness is still expanding and evolving, keeping things fresh and interesting.

I am so much better now then I was a few years ago. I never thought at my age that I would be lifting weights and enjoying exercise classes! Long may it continue...

'I look forward to my weekly keep-fit sessions and am pleased it's in my area which enables me to participate. With only attending once a week, I have already toned up my body and feel so much better in myself. I am also able to do the exercises more fully than when I started. I would really miss it if it finished.'  Cherry, St Mary's Class

© Healthiness Ltd, 2018