Are GPs aware there are specialist exercise instructors available locally?

How beneficial would it be for doctors to know that there is a specialist instructor at the local leisure centre?

Our Lay Adviser Elaine Stott, who is a Fitness Instructor and Active4Life Community Development Officer, explores the gap between the medical industry and the fitness industry when it comes to helping people improve their health:

I have a great job! I love it! I love the people I meet on a daily basis and I really want to do it! Therefore I inspire people to love what I do too!

That may sound big headed, it may sound like I’m boasting but I have over 20 fitness classes a week that are full, I teach over 600 people every week in physical activity and exercise and I know most of their names, I know their likes and dislikes and I know their limits, problems and conditions. I teach people with heart problems, back problems, arthritis, diabetes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), hip replacements, knee replacements, and people aged from 16 to 96!

I coach a Walking Football session for a group of people who have suffered a Stroke, a Yoga class for people with Mechanical Lower Back Pain, a Functional Fitness class for people who have mobility issues that affect their ability to do their simple everyday tasks, gentle exercise sessions for people with COPD and the over 60’s, I teach Yoga and relaxation at the local hospice for cancer sufferers. I also teach more full on Spinning, Aerobics and Aqua Aerobics at the local leisure centre!

I’m just a Fitness Instructor who is passionate about her job and I want to help people and make their lives healthier and fitter and enable them to continue doing what they want to do for as long as they can, and I can help do that!

I know that across the country instructors like me are doing the same and trying to encourage more people to be active, yet we struggle sometimes with the NHS, which fails to recognise the quality of delivery out there. For example:

“A lady in my class was told to accept her condition and sit back and live with it by a specialist. She decided to try and do something more about it, so she asked about exercise.  She spoke to me about her condition, I researched it, I ensured she had not been told specifically of anything that she could not do and to clear everything we did with her specialist and if she felt any pain or discomfort she must tell me and stop. She agreed and we started Aqua Aerobics as a gentler way to start exercising, that was 12 months ago. This same lady is now attending 3 Aqua classes a week, 1 Pilates class and a Spinning class she also swims twice a week! She feels better, fitter and healthier than she has felt in a long time and feels she can finally start to enjoy her retirement and is thinking of buying a bike. She went back to her specialist again to check on her condition and ensure everything was fine, and was again told, not to expect it to get better and she should stop doing as much.  She asked “why?” He didn’t really have an answer!”

There is a gap in communication between the medical and the fitness industry, fitness instructors are trained to a high level and we are constantly learning as the fitness industry changes, yet I feel sometimes the medical industry are not utilising the benefits exercise can really bring to their patients in conjunction with the required medical advice, treatments and/or medication.  Having greater reassurances and communication between the two industries would benefit patients and public health. Similar to the medical industry, fitness instructors have to hold insurance, practice/teach in a safe way and only within the limits of their qualifications. If someone approaches me in a class and tells me of an issue they are having and I am unqualified to deal with it I will forward them to a Physiotherapist, a Nutrition Advisor or a Doctor. However, would a doctor advise someone to come to one of my sessions?

Ensuring that everyone who can help the population to be healthier and fitter works together is the way forward. How beneficial would it be for doctors to know that there is a specialist instructor at the local leisure centre, that there is a class running in the community especially for someone with the condition they are treating? Many fitness instructors are Level 3 qualified in Exercise Referral they know about the long term conditions and can adapt sessions accordingly. The NHS need to work with the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS) and enable a more cohesive working relationship, REPS needs to become a recognised National Governing Body and organisations such as the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine and the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine could go a long way in helping to develop this pathway.

Written by Elaine Stott Lay Adviser to the FSEM (UK)