Resilience through physical activity

Shortly after social distancing measures were announced, sports fixtures, leagues and competitions up and down the country were cancelled, postponed and suspended. A collective sigh of disappointment was felt by players, teams, coaches, volunteers, fans and anyone whose calendar is organised around training and events. My 13 year old son hung up his rugby boots for the season and my daughter stopped attending her weekly gymnastics session.

Yet, whilst organised sport has shut down, albeit temporarily, people everywhere have been lacing up their trainers, keen to experience the spring sunshine on a walk, run or cycle.

Never before have we been so explicitly encouraged to exercise daily; to boost wellbeing and reduce the chances of becoming ill from Covid-19 and over burdening the NHS. Experts at the Centre for Perioperative Care (CPOC) recommend “ideally a brisk walk, cycle or jog as well as undertaking strengthening and balance exercises.” Researchers in China where the virus originated also found less-fit people with medical conditions were five times more likely to have a worse outcome from Covid-19. But is it the medical health benefits we are seeking or simply the joy of being active, feeling the fresh air on our skin and connecting with nature and the outdoors because it makes us feel good?

Personal Resilience

My daughter and I have walked most mornings since schools were closed, she has laid out her clothes beside her bed every night and asked me to wake her up before I set out on my regular dog walk. She never normally walks the dogs with me, I would have to beg her to come out. We’ve chosen a different route each day and watched the daffodils unfolding, swaying and almost cheering us on as we pass. It’s become a corner stone of the day, a new routine (for her at least) and helped us both to structure our time amidst the uncertainty.

Exercise does that, it provides solid ground on which to build, lifts us up, fills us with strength and opens our minds. It’s this stuff, when practised daily that helps build our resilience in good times and especially in bad.

Team Spirit

In our Shift Monday morning Zoom ‘Team Talk’ sessions, colleagues have talked about how physical activity routines have given them structure and focus amongst the chaos – cycling, walking, Joe Wicks’ 9am PE session with their children, fitness challenges, netball drills, lunch time swing ball, dog walks and HITT sessions. We’re aching a bit but grateful for the chance to get out of breath and push ourselves and our families. 

It’s good to notice how we’ve adapted to our new circumstances and how exercise has flexed with us, how digital platforms have enabled new ways of participating in activities which were until recently confined to sports halls, yoga studios, and community halls. But it’s the simple pleasure of being active that has really struck us, whether it’s in our front rooms, in our back gardens, down the street or up a hill, it’s the joy of moving, hearts pounding, muscles pumping and limbs stretching that makes us want to exercise, especially at times like these. It lifts spirits and keeps us balanced – mentally and physically.

Community Resilience

Across Derbyshire over recent weeks, we’ve seen communities connect through physical activity; in New Mills, Personal Trainers are offering bespoke programmes based on the equipment available in people’s homes and many are generously providing free sessions open to all on social media channels. In Bolsover and Petersham, exercise instructors have moved quickly to keep people active and groups connected.

Teachers at Fairfield School near Buxton shared Joe Wicks’ posts on local Facebook pages and families throughout the community all joined in then posted videos of themselves. Together, whilst apart finding a way to be connected through exercise.

Jog Derbyshire

The Jog Derbyshire network has been especially lively, despite the obvious group restrictions. Jog Crich are using their Whatsapp group to co-ordinate individual routes and encourage daily sharing of photos. Each photo inspires others to get out and be active as well as sharing new routes and ideas for keeping fit.

Rogue Runners Ripley have created weekly challenges to encourage their joggers to connect, last week was an ‘Isolation Relay’ featuring 6 teams over 7 days with 42 runners in total. How far could each member run in 19 minutes with a comedy baton?

Matlock Sole Mates hosted a virtual team journey to see how far they can run together over a week – aiming to get out of the UK and into Europe and Smalley Road Runners held a virtual run last Thursday at 7pm followed by applause for Carers and NHS staff at 8pm.

Jog Leaders are taking the initiative and organising on line Q&A sessions on Facebook (eg  Andy Brooks and Helen Treece ‘Keeping the Distance’) as well as quizzes, spin classes and boot camps.

Resilient Networks

Perhaps it’s the underlying strength of relationships across the Jog Derbyshire network that has meant it’s been easy to keep spirits high and spur each other on – leaders are used to leading and joggers are used to pitching in and connecting within and across groups. They are a creative bunch and will no doubt continue to find ways of using the power of exercise to keep them grounded during these troubled times.

How does exercise help you and your friends, families and wider networks with resilience? We’d love to hear from you.

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