'Like a new woman' - the benefits of a North East programme encouraging daily exercise

By her own admission, Anne Smiles had become a couch potato.

She was, she tells me, 'sitting here waiting for God with my knitting needles'. Then, earlier this year, she was persuaded to try daily exercise and her life has been transformed.

'I just do it gently, and watch my television, don't worry myself at all, and seven weeks, I'm like a new woman.'

Anne is following How Fit, an NHS exercise programme created in the North East. The aim is to encourage people of all ages and abilities to incorporate activity into their daily lives for the good of their health and wellbeing.

The NHS says exercise can reduce the risk of serious conditions including:

  • heart disease

  • stroke

  • type two diabetes

  • dementia

How Fit was first launched in 2020. Led by North Tyneside CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group), it is now being given a renewed push. After two years in which many people have been less active due to the pandemic, those behind it say the message is more important than ever. 

Dr Steve Parry developed the programme. In his role as a hospital consultant, he tells me he sees patients every day who are suffering as a result of inactivity.

'Not just of the older generation: I mean people in their early middle age, even younger who through lack of exercise are already starting to see a deteriorating spiral of difficulties with walking, in trouble getting up stairs and so much of that is completely preventable.'

A series of exercises, aimed at different levels of ability, are explained on the How Fit website. All are designed to be done at home, without the need for specialist equipment. 

Anne has incorporated exercise into her daily routine. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Physiotherapist Heidi Williams, who helped to develop the exercises, says you don't need to find extra time: some can be done while brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil.

She said: 'What we know about exercise is that if you do it daily and if you stick to doing it over a minimum length of time of roughly six weeks, you will see a measurable improvement.'

Dr Parry says a trial of the programme at a North East care home found a significant reduction in the number of falls experienced by residents, as well as wider improvements in their wellbeing. Now many more care homes are joining up.

Anne Smiles says she has certainly seen the power of exercise. She will not be giving up her knitting but will continue to set time aside each day to improve her fitness.