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After ‘horrendous’ impact of lockdowns on fitness, a North East doctor is hoping easy-to-do exercises can transform our health

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Inactivity during the pandemic has seen the rate of older people suffering falls shoot up “horrendously”.

That’s according to a senior NHS consultant in the North East – but Dr Steve Parry has put his efforts into putting together a programme called HowFit which is designed to get people who aren’t active doing exercise for free and in their own homes. Dr Parry is, building on the back of the scheme’s success so far, hoping that persuading more people to do a few simple exercises each day can reverse some of the damage caused by the lockdowns of the past two years.

Dr Parry is a consultant at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust. With personal trainer Phil Earley and physiotherapists Heidi Williams and Skye Owen, he has developed the programme of exercises – and says that the results have seen care homes slash the number of falls they see and even dramatic improvements in some people with dementia.

Read more: Covid-19 cases fall in the North East – but experts think 2.4 million in England had virus last week

“Fairly early on in the pandemic it became horrendously obvious that this lack of activity was a problem,” Dr Parry said. “Unfortunately people decondition incredibly quickly when they’re not active – especially, but not only, older people. The number of people who were falling was just horrific. The increase in falls and that kind of thing just led me to think what can we do on a population level to fix this.

“So we conceived of HowFit. The idea was how do we get people moving who don’t see exercise as their business. It can be really difficult to break back into exercise if you lose the habit. This is aimed at everybody, but particularly those who aren’t used to exercise.

“So far it has been really successful and we’ve had lots of positive feedback. Of course it’s free to use, one of the benefits of How Fit is that you’re able to do it in your own home – there’s no cost of need for equipment. We’ve heard some wonderful, wonderful stories. There is one woman with dementia whose daughter said that for the first time in 18 months she was able to answer the door to her after doing How Fit. And we’ve been working with a North Tyneside care home and they’ve seen a 50% decrease in falls.”

HowFit is available online, but 1.4 million leaflets have also been distributed to households around the North East and North Cumbria as part of the campaign – and they explain the exercises that people can begin without spending a penny. The idea is to make sure those without internet access are not excluded.

Dr Parry said he felt convincing as many people as possible to exercise “is honestly a panacea” – adding: “If you could put exercise in the water we could solve the country’s health problems in one sharp swoop.”

He explained that the fall in fitness levels in many during the pandemic had real implications for people’s lives as well as for society more broadly. HowFit, Dr Parry said, is aimed at everyone who has seen their fitness decline during the pandemic – not just older people. However the impact of deconditioning can be particularly acute for the older generations. Dr Parry cited a Public Health England study from early in the pandemic which predicted the impact of falls from those who’d lost fitness on the NHS could hit £211m a year.

Dr Parry added: “The huge number of falls has been really worrying. I am seeing an awful lo of deconditioned older people whose mobility has gone off a cliff and that has serious consequences for their independence. And that lack of mobility can have huge repercussions on their health. It can lead to high blood pressure, it can raise the risk of type two diabetes. The consequences are massive for an individual but they are also huge for the health and social care sector and society at large. And let’s not forget about the mental health benefits of doing some exercise.

“I’ve witnessed at first hand the effects of people being less mobile during the pandemic and was keen to help get people moving again – especially those who don’t particularly like the kind of exercise promoted by fitness gurus and gyms.”

The top medic – who works in emergency medicine as well as with local falls teams in our area – added that the key was building exercise into your routine, “even if it’s just 15 minutes while you’re watching Coronation Street”.

To find out more about HowFit and take part in the easy-to-start exercises, visit howfittoday.co.uk/

Have you tried HowFit? Let us know what you thought in the comments below

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