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Exercise scheme offers mental and physical health boost

The group lifting weights with instructor Leigh

People in the Afan Valley are following doctor’s orders and hitting the gym as a way of helping their medical conditions.

The GP Exercise Referral Scheme allows doctors to refer their patients with various medical conditions, both physical and mental, to an instructor who supports them to improve their health and wellbeing.

The scheme is funded by the Afan Local Cluster Collaborative (LCC), with sessions held at Gwynfi Miners Community Hall in Blaengwynfi.

Afan LCC covers the Aberavon, Baglan, Cwmavon, Cymmer, Glyncorrwg, Gwynfi, Margam, Port Talbot, Sandfields and Taibach areas of Neath Port Talbot.

Pictured: Instructor Leigh Owen (left) with participants Glenn Pow, Cheryle Pow and Christine Whittingham.

GPs complete a medical assessment to make referrals to the scheme and patients are later contacted by the instructor so an induction can be arranged.

During the session, the instructor asks for further details about the patient’s medical condition so an exercise programme can be tailored to help them best achieve their goals.

Patients who are referred include those with cardiac issues, diabetes, obesity and various joint or back pain, as well as emotional or mood struggles, among other conditions.

They are supported and encouraged by the instructor to complete the exercise programme with the aim of easing or improving some of their symptoms.

Leigh Owen, instructor at Gwynfi Miners Community Hall, said: “Initially it’s about understanding people’s ability and their mobility.

“Then I alter the different exercises to suit their ability, as well as their medical conditions.

“We mainly help people with their back pain, diabetes, joint pain and blood pressure.

“Everyone enjoys the sessions and say they help them. People say their strength and overall fitness becomes a lot better."

Once the sessions have finished, patients are encouraged to keep doing the exercises they have been given.

Glenn Pow is just one of the people who have been referred to the programme since its introduction within the LCC.

Glenn using one of the resistance machines

Pictured: Glenn using some of the equipment funded by the cluster.

“I suffered a heart attack and a stroke in June last year,” he said.

“I was paralysed from the waist down as a result. I was offered physiotherapy as part of my rehabilitation but I chose the option of the exercise referral programme.

“I have been coming every week for the last couple of months and it’s really helped me get back to normal.

“Leigh has helped to build me back up. He has been marvellous.”

Glenn’s wife, Cheryle, was also referred by her GP to take part in the programme to help with her back pain.

She added: “I have had back pain for years so my GP referred me as they thought some strengthening exercises would help.

“I have been going to the sessions for the last two months and I do feel the pain has been getting better.”

As well as funding the programme, the cluster previously provided gym equipment to the Gwynfi Miners Community Hall so both patients referred to the programme and members of the public could use them.

Now, Afan LCC has funded more equipment for the hall including a new treadmill, rowing machine and a variety of weight resistance machines.

It is hoped that the new equipment will continue to benefit people’s health and wellbeing in the area.

Dr Mark Goodwin, a GP at Afan Valley Group Practice, said: “A person’s health is positively influenced by physical and emotional wellbeing.

“We have been very fortunate in Afan Valley to have a local gym, where patients who have physical or emotional issues can attend small local classes in a relaxed, non-competitive atmosphere, and with motivated trainers to improve their fitness.

“Many have seen reduced loneliness, better stamina, improved health and a sense of achievement.

“We are very grateful to our local trainers who commit a lot of their time and energy and for the financial support we have been able to get from the cluster to fund these sessions and purchase equipment for several years ahead.”

Andrew Griffiths, the health board's Head of Cluster Development and Planning, said: “Our clusters in Swansea Bay strive to support our local population to improve health and wellbeing, doing so within their local communities wherever possible.

“This programme helps to support and encourage people to improve their fitness, with the overall aim of benefiting their medical conditions.

“We are pleased to be able to provide this programme within the Afan LCC and are grateful to Gwynfi Miners Community Hall for their involvement in delivering it.”

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