I look back on my training career with tears, smiles and laughs. Tears for those who are no longer with us; smiles for those who went on to deliver in their places of work or classes in halls and community centres, starting a career they may have only dreamt of; and laughs from arm and leg tongue twisters and enjoyable silliness.
As an anatomy and physiology tutor, my ‘job’ was to help people discover the wonders of the body so that when affected by the ageing process and cruel conditions like Parkinson’s and MS, teachers have an idea of what is happening inside and why. Most of our students worked in care or were retired, looking for a second career so it was a huge commitment. Many had not studied since their school days and some had left school with little or no qualifications, so it was a daunting task, but we achieved a 100% pass rate.
The A&P as it was referred to was not an easy course. We studied the body to the old ‘O’ Level standard with input on movement, and muscle work (kinesiology) from physiotherapists as well as input from a geriatrician and dietitian and voice production. By 2004 the tutors agreed that the ‘school text books’ did not have everything an EXTEND teacher needed so Judith Holpin, my Course Director suggested I re-wrote the original EXTEND course book, written by Betty Grey in 1987.
Not having a computer at home, I used to go to my parent’s house, where every day, while the children were at school, I used to work on the text. In late 2004 we bought our first home computer and shut away in the office bedroom I created the 'Anatomy, Physiology and Kinesiology, notes for EXTEND Students' book which was designed to be friendly, easy to read and cheaper than a text book! I could not have done this by myself. I needed a second pair of eyes and the accuracy of an experienced physiotherapist so Gill Curwood, a fellow EXTEND teacher and physio, worked with me and the book was used for the first time in 2005. At the same time Dave Goodacre and i re-vamped the exams so that they were more accessible to everyone, replacing long written answers with multiple choice questions that demanded a broader and more detailed understanding of the body and the benefits of EXTEND Exercise.
While teaching the heart and circulatory system it was quite common for people to declare ‘now I know what is wrong with my dad’s heart’, ‘I understand angina‘ and ‘now I know why my anaemic daughter is so tired all of the time.’ The teaching of the respiratory system usually resulted in at least one person giving up smoking and after delivering the session on the nervous and endocrine system people asked their GPs for thyroid function tests. Most importantly everyone on the course realised that the ageing process was something that happened to everyone and an understanding of the bones, joints, heart and lungs meant they were sympathetic to those with aches and pains without being patronising because they were ‘old’.
I have delivered 19 CPD training days for EXTEND, some with 30 teachers in attendance and some with only 6. We had lectures from physiotherapists on posture, the leg and foot, one physio brought in ‘spare parts’ for hip and knee replacements so we could visualise the metal work working. We had sessions from physiotherapists specialising in Parkinson’s, Stroke and MS, as well as talks on supporting class members with cancer, arthritis, visual impairments and dementia We had a whole body work out with Lishi and an enjoyable morning with my Medau teacher, Vera.
We had apparatus workshops and music workshops and were delighted that Dawn Skelton delivered a session on falls prevention and thera bands. We adapted, created exercises, thought outside the box and most importantly learned from each other’s experiences.
Most of the people I taught to teach are still teaching and have full classes delivering safe exercise to those who might not otherwise enjoy an exercise to music session. Some have retired and others have gone onto other things. For some it was the first step of a new career, for some it was the catalyst for promotion and for others it was a way of giving something back
EXTEND training is just the start of many people’s careers and I was privileged to be at the start of so many.
Way back, on Saturday 22nd May 1999 I qualified as an EXTEND Exercise teacher. Judith Holpin was my Course Director, Marna was the brilliant physio and exam day was overseen by Seona Ross and Anita Best.
And so began my 20 year association with EXTEND and my journey from teacher to Company Secretary, anatomy and physiology tutor and Course Director. From fun classes in church halls to producing an item at the Royal Albert Hall, meeting the Duke of Edinburgh and then becoming Chair of the Movement and Dance Division of the Sport and Recreation Alliance.
On Monday 20th May I will be celebrating 20 years of teaching with my class members and those who set me on my path - promoting health, increasing mobility and independence, improving strength, co-ordination and balance and counteracting loneliness and isolation.
Get into the habit of being physically active. That doesn't mean going to the gym!
Gardening, walking, housework, climbing the stairs and even shopping helps to keep the heart healthy, bones and muscles strong.
After a diagnosis of osteoporosis or if you have risk factors, you should do more exercise, rather than less. Being physically active and exercising helps you in so many ways and osteoporosis is not a barrier to exercise with either EXTEND or Medau Movement, as with all classes you do what you can and adapt those that are problematical.
Taking the body through its pain free range of motion, with apparatus that work the muscles as well as challenging hand eye co-ordination and practicing balance an EXTEND or Medau Movement class exercises the muscles as well as having positive impact on mobility, flexibility, strength, and falls awareness.
Dawn Skelton, professor of ageing and health at Glasgow Caledonian University and chair of the ROS steering group that worked on the project, said: “I’ve got countless heart-breaking stories of watching people’s lives simply collapse when they get an osteoporosis diagnosis.
“They stay indoors worrying about their fragile bones, when they are perfectly capable of doing things to keep their bones strong which could add so much life to their remaining years.
“They hear ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that’, or sometimes they’re so worried they’re not listening at all. And they end up being sedentary, losing more bone density in addition to the bone density you naturally lose as you get older."
If you want some exercises to do at home then take a look here, but you will find that we do most of them in class - to music and with like minded people!
I was at Westminster this afternoon, the day of the Brexit vote and the place was buzzing but in the Strangers Dining Room something special was happening. I was invited to attend the first joint All-Party Parliamentary Group event for Sport and Disability, in partnership with the British Paralympic Association, to improve the numbers of disabled people taking part in sport and physical activity and seeking to address the barriers that currently exist. Paralympians and Parliamentarians discussed the importance of physical activity for disabled people and the barriers that they face when attempting to access these opportunities.
People are always asking me if I use thera bands- those stretchy elastic bands that come in many different colours. I have bands and I was lucky enough to perform a brilliant 'band sequence' with the Fitness League (now FLexercise) at the Royal Albert Hall.
All EXTEND teachers were trained to use these bands and we had CDP days with experts, and way before bands became readily available we used to work our muscles with plaited tights! As a Course director for EXTEND I was fortunate enough to hear Professor Dawn Skelton from Later Life Training talk about the use of bands at several CPD days and she delivered several CPD days for me showing us the correct way and explaining the ‘science’ behind the exercises and she was at hand as we devised our own exercises for our class members.
But, despite having a whole bag of green, red and yellow bands (plus latex free bands) in the cupboard I do not use them.
I used them for a while, but in a recreational exercise to music class I found I was spending a disproportionate amount of time giving safety warnings and instructing my class members on the ‘right way’ to hold the bands so circulation was not cut off to the fingers and making sure they were being held correctly so they didn’t ‘ping back’ and poke them in the eye. I was for ever re-adjusting position of the hands, so they were the right length and making sure they were not wrinkled so they dug into fragile skin and painful joints. Exercises requiring the band to be wrapped around the thighs or passed behind were interesting as despite cutting them to a substantial length there was always someone whose band wasn’t long. I was always checking them for tears and signs of wear and tear – even more so after I attended a session ‘elsewhere’ and the band broke in my hands and pinged me on the cheek.
I made a conscious decision put them in the cupboard as in my hour-long class I was giving 30 minutes to band work of which 10 minutes was making sure everyone had the right band and then a further 15 minutes doing the exercises with me talking all the way through with teaching points and instructions and then 5 minutes rolling them up (good for the fingers) and putting them away.
In 2014 I had a bad shoulder and the physio the consultant referred me to give me specific exercises for my shoulder. It took her 20 minutes to make sure I was performing one specific exercise to the correct height, angle and speed and I knew that keeping the bands in the cupboard was not a bad thing after all. To the untrained eye this was a standard exercise for the shoulder and in class I would have just gone through the teaching points in a few minutes saying, ‘if it is too strong or painful then stop’, she made me appreciate that how a slight change in length, angle and height can alter the whole exercise. My personal experience re-affirmed my thoughts that what is good for one person’s muscles might be to the detriment of another’s. A few months ago, my other shoulder has decided to play up and I got the yellow band out and started doing my ‘safe’ exercises again. Feeling smug with myself I showed the exercises to my new (and brilliant) physio but the exercises given to me for my right shoulder were not as ‘effective as they might be’ for the left even though it was a similar condition, so off I went with 2 different exercises to practice.
So, despite their brilliant stretchy properties and benefits, my bands are still in the cupboard as after a fairly long discussion with the physio (while she was working on my shoulder) I decided, that in a recreational exercise to music class, with class members with fragile skin, painful joints and osteoporosis I was far better doing other things for flexibility, encouraging a greater range of movement, mobility, transfer of weight and balance. Clubs, balls, scarves and hoops have endless possibilities – standing and sitting - they require fewer safety instructions and I am far less stressed at the end. Plus, the class members tell me the bands feel like a physio session whereas apparatus is more fun!
BUT- if you have been given exercises for your specific joints then please remember to do them – they were given to you for a reason!
Who are our class members?
I got 100% in the exam for the ‘knowing your clients’ module.
But, who are they?
Yesterday a beloved class member passed away.
Who was she?
Was she a name on a list?
Was she a tick on the register?
Was she a medical history engraved in the mind?
She was our friend.
Class members are more than a name, a form and a tick.
They are the sound of their voice, the way they hum and sing along.
They are the teaching point you give ‘just for them’.
They are the chair they sit on, their place in the room.
They are the good afternoon and thank you.
They are the kind smile and the frown of concentration.
They are the song you play because it makes them smile.
They are a special combination of movements because they enjoy them.
They are the wink, the nod, the ‘follow this lady as she knows what she is doing’.
They are a name on the Christmas card.
They are the class.
Being part of a class isn’t just being in the space as everyone else.
It isn’t about being in time with the music.
They are not just a name on a piece of paper or a safe to exercise form.
Being part of the class is being part of the chemistry,
They are the cement that holds the class together
The ingredient that makes it special and unique.
They thank us for a good class and we say thank you to them.
BUT, they are not ‘them’ they are people with names, stories, jokes, smiles, quirks and sense of humours.
Without our class members we would be nothing.
They shape and mould us.
There have been many reports and reviews about why people exercise and the benefits of keeping physically active.
One of the latest reports, 'Me, Not My Age or Impairment - Get Out Get Active' explains why ladies find it difficult to take the first steps and while reading it I found myself ticking off a virtual list of positive benefits of my classes.
People say they missed their more active lives prior to their life limiting health condition or impairment. At EXTEND we work round health issues, we have been complimented on the fact that we are one of the few organisations that works with the person and not the condition. A person is exactly the same person after a diagnosis and the last thing they want is someone wrapping them up in cotton wool reminding them that they are ill! EXTEND and Medau classes work round aches and pains and with a ‘can do attitude’ the class is often just what people are looking for and what the doctor ordered.
They say ‘a class for older adults, isn’t that a bit slow or boring?' No, not if you are mobilising the whole body, working every joint to your maximum and laughing at the same time. I have heard so many people say, ‘oh I can move my shoulders’ ‘my knees are less stiff’ and yes one lady did tell me that she could play the piano again!
Ladies say they do not go to classes because they have a fear of being judged – at EXTEND and Medau there is no possibility of this as the class is not competitive, everyone is looking at me and not each other and we all make mistakes and laugh at them!
So, pop along and give a class ago as you will not know if it is your thing until you try it- and the first class is always free.
The weather is grey and we all want to snuggle down until the sun shines, but did you know that getting up, having a potter about the house or just wandering down the garden to listen to the birds is good for you?
Those people with the latest Fitbit jump up every hour to 'do 250 steps' and then do a relaxing deep breathing exercise to help reduce stress. I must own up to having a 'wearable device' and was pleasantly surprised to see that on Monday 14th January my EXTEND warm up logged 11 minutes of aerobic activity (yep- an EXTEND 'gentle exercise' class) and then on 16th January my Medau class logged a massive 55 minutes aerobic activity.
A recent study showed that exercising standing up helps with balance and that exercises done while standing up 'enhances balance and the ability to do daily activities such as standing up from a low chair or climbing stairs.' The study used Tai Chi but in class we move around the hall in all directions, wave our arms , we stand on one leg and move our feet at a speed somewhat faster than we would out in the street.
But what does it all mean in every-day life? It means that we have to be aware - and mindful- of what physical activity we are doing and how long we are sitting. Something as simple standing up and walking from one room to another, down the garden, up the stairs during the adverts or standing on one leg when doing the washing up is more than some people might do. Poke your nose outside and take some deep, clean breaths and listen to the birds. Go the long way round or take the manageable hill instead of the flat path. Listen to your body, don't go mad but just do a bit more.
Keeping physically active is a bit like having a healthy, broad and balanced diet. Enjoy a little bit of everything so you do not feel deprived but you will be able to see then benefits. We can all do more at home, but EXTEND or Medau can be one of your 5-a-day and it will register on your Fitbit or other wearable device and keep the doctor happy!
And so, to some exciting news, EXTEND is now a member of ukactive, an organisation that ‘exists to improve the health of the nation by getting more people, more active, more often. ukactive provides services and facilitates partnerships for a broad range of organisations, all of which support our vision and have a role to play in achieving that goal.’
Dates for your diaries!
Monday EXTEND resumes 14th January
Tuesday EXTEND resumes 15th January
Medau on Wednesday resumes on 16th January
Exercise With Tracy
EXTEND Exercise and Medau Movement teacher. Keeping the muscles working, the joints mobile and having fun!