Fitness sessions in Ashford and Folkestone help overcome fears of going to the gym

Contributed by editor on Jul 12, 2019 - 03:05 PM

James Green with Occupational Therapist Laura Zingstra-Matson


Many of us can find going to the gym an intimidating experience, but imagine if you were also worried about finding your way there, getting through the reception area and having to talk to new people.

These are just some of the issues which adults with learning disabilities might face, which is why Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) has Moving On Up - a 10-week programme to provide support and encouragement for those who would benefit from exercise, but who might be fearful of going to the gym or a swimming pool on their own.

The group is run by occupational therapists and physiotherapists from the trust’s Community Learning Disability Team and is run in conjunction with qualified fitness instructors at local authority sport centres, who provide personalised and adapted fitness programmes to suit individual needs.

Moving on Up sessions are held at the Stour Centre in Ashford on Thursdays and at Folkestone Sports Centre on Fridays, with plans to set up groups in Swale and at other locations too.

The sessions include time in the gym, using exercise bikes, treadmills, cross trainers, rowing machines and free weights, followed by aqua aerobics in the swimming pool for those who still have the energy and enjoy time in the water.

James Green, 36, from Ashford, is normally accompanied by his mum or dad. His mum Nicola said: “His goal is to get fit and healthy, to make new friends and to lose weight. People with learning disabilities can end up isolated so it’s good for him to get out of the house, to interact with staff from Kent Community Health and to talk to other gym users. He needs a social environment otherwise he can withdraw into himself. Going to the gym is about much more than just exercise for him.”

Kevin Martin, 37, from Ashford, goes to the group with his mum and afterwards the pair enjoy lunch in the Stour Centre café. His mum Barbara said: “He loves going to the group and knows exactly what he needs to do. The first time it was a bit daunting, but now he is eager to go. He’s lost weight and toned up a bit and it’s a social thing too.”

Gregg Maynard, 55, who lives in Ashford, also enjoys going to the group. He said: “It’s good to get fitter. It’s fun and I know it does me good.”

KCHFT's Bernadette Riley with service user Gregory Maynard

The group has been running for around eight years.

Occupational Therapist Laura Zingstra-Matson said: “Clients get so much from the sessions. As well as physical fitness, we’ve seen that exercise can positively boost mood, develop body awareness and coordination."

Bernadette Riley, a KCHFT occupational therapy assistant practitioner, added: “For some even just getting to the gym and walking in the door can be hard. They might be worried about getting on the bus, or getting through the reception area. We help to make it as simple as possible and offer support.

"Some clients might be autistic and not like noise, in which case we can give them special headphone which helps them to block out noise and focus. If someone is worried about talking to the receptionist we can write down what they want on a card, so they can simply show it when they arrive.”

To find out more about KCHFT’s Community Learning Disability Team and the Moving On Up group please visit:

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