Nick Bender talks to James Cracknell about his exercise classes for older people can help beat loneliness
Running a project aimed at tackling loneliness in older people when they’re being advised to stay at home is no mean feat.
But this is the situation researcher and personal trainer Nick Bender finds himself in. Nick is the man behind Walk and Talk for Your Life, a project based at Priory Court Community Centre in Walthamstow that uses exercise as a way to tackle loneliness. Last year he conducted a study for Middlesex University that found a ten-week group exercise course helped reduce loneliness by 22%.
When the pandemic hit in March, Nick decided to conduct a second study, also aiming to reduce loneliness but this time with the added challenge of “doing it via Zoom”.
Says Nick: “We have been running weekly online classes for people who have already completed the ten-week course with me, to see how it goes. Now we are looking to do another study this summer to find out if these online sessions can be as effective as the in-person classes.”
What kind of exercises can you do with older people online, I wonder, assuming Nick is not taking inspiration from Joe Wicks?
“We’ve done a bit of shadow boxing, some bum kicks, high knees, we’ve done 30 minutes of chair-based exercises, and we’ve been teaching some techniques on how to get up from a fall. They don’t need any equipment other than a chair.
“We are now recruiting some brand new people for the study. I am interested to see what differences there are compared to the face-to-face sessions.
“I think it could lead to some ideas on how humans connect and if the same connections can be made online. Some people might be sick of Zoom by now but I guess we’ll find out!”
One benefit of the online classes is that it removes a barrier to joining for older people who might find it difficult to travel from other parts of Waltham Forest.
“We’re already seeing that people are joining to the online classes every single week, so attendance is even better. Older people are getting more tech savvy as well – I expected it to be a headache to coach people to use laptops and iPads, but they are getting better. People who couldn’t log in at the start have it all figured it out now.”
With support from UnLtd, Nick is also looking beyond this summer’s study to what he hopes will become a long-term programme for the Waltham Forest community, run as a social enterprise.
“Although I’m a researcher I don’t plan on stopping doing this and I want to set it up as a community interest company. I am putting a call out for personal trainers to join me and I want to have multiple classes running in Walhamstow in the future.”
As well as exercise, talking is a big part of Nick’s sessions. Topics range from finding purpose in retirement, to nutrition for older people, and tips on improving sleep. Social interaction is integral to it, and the new Zoom classes are tailored to ensure participants still have a chance to converse with each other.
“Not only are we helping people with their health but we are aiming to reduce loneliness. It sets us apart from other exercise classes. It is healthier to be social. One of the stresses of life is being lonely, it can cause high blood pressure – it can be deadly.
“This is our strategy for improving health.”
Sign up for the next Walk and Talk for Your Life programme starting Monday 8th June:
Call 07562 475 706
This article is supported by William Morris Big Local in association with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs. To find out more about UnLtd:
Call 0207 566 1100