After saying goodbye to her high pressure public relations job at the age of 61, Elizabeth Hunt, spiralled down into a period of depression. Recognising that she needed to take action to improve her mental and physical health, she began visiting her local gym in West Sussex. However, Elizabeth never could have predicted that this would spark an idea for her next career move…
“I turned to exercise to help me regain a positive outlook”
Coming from an active family, it seems only natural that Elizabeth herself would turn to exercise during rocky times. Her grandmother was a keen swimmer and her grandfather loved hiking and skiing – something which he passed on to the whole family. Her parents also loved playing tennis and sailing, and her sister is still mountain climbing and skiing in her 60s.
Elizabeth explains, “I left my high-pressure role in London not knowing what I would do next. I should have been more proactive about preparing to move on, but there wasn’t much time to think outside the immediate work environment. Following my departure, I spiralled down into depression for several months and I turned to exercise to help me regain a positive outlook. And, along with a brief course of an antidepressant, it has.”
“I started thinking - our local gym is a ten-minute drive from our village. So, it wouldn’t be possible for many older adults, especially those who no longer drive, to get there”
However, Elizabeth found that her gym visits were more than just a mood enhancer. They also got her thinking about the number of older adults that could be missing out on exercise, due to issues with accessibility.
Reflecting on her thoughts at the time, Elizabeth says, “I saw some very fit 70-90 year old men and women at my local gym, working with Jordan Burns, a talented young trainer who encouraged, cajoled and teased them into doing more than they thought they could, in some cases dramatically improving their fitness.”
“But then I started thinking – our local gym is a ten-minute drive from our village. So, it wouldn’t be possible for many older adults, especially those who no longer drive, to get there. And most wouldn’t even consider going to a gym. For many people, gyms are not enticing. They are perceived as noisy, smelly, and filled with intimidating people who are overly focused on their bodies, and dress in strange clothing!
“It also dawned on me that although many communities have a village or church hall with Pilates, Zumba and other excellent exercise offerings – these aren’t always suitable for older adults. High intensity exercise isn’t always safe, and many cannot easily get down to or up from the floor.”
With this in mind Elizabeth and personal trainer, Jordan, began brainstorming about what could be done to make exercise more accessible for older adults – to help combat both loneliness and the risk of falls. Elizabeth explains, “Even before the pandemic locked us away, I knew that the NHS was facing difficulties. Falls already cost the NHS over £2.3 billion a year, not including the resulting human cost of pain, and additional care from family members.
“Loneliness is also a problem for some older adults, and this can have a serious effect on health. According to Age UK, more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.”
A new venture...
Elizabeth and Jordan decided that a logical step to help people enjoy a happier, healthier ageing process where they have a greater sense of control, would be to create a fitness and social programme for people over 60. This would be something that could be delivered in a familiar venue in their local communities, by local personal trainers. The programme would also give people the opportunity for a social break where they could get to know one another better.
So, the pair partnered up to create FIT FOR GOOD in August 2019. They ran a number of fitness classes locally in Pulborough, West Sussex. Explaining how she felt about starting up a new venture, she said, “I had founded a successful boutique public relations firm previously, so I knew starting a new company wouldn’t be easy, but I have an incredibly supportive husband, who also believes very strongly in helping people to age better through fitness. And Jordan is as passionate about older adult fitness as he is talented, so he’s an ideal partner. We’ve also been fortunate to have two other exceptionally talented trainers join us – Mira and Rob.”
The FIT FOR GOOD sessions were so popular, that by March 2020 Elizabeth and her small team were ready to expand – with more sessions starting in Billingshurst, and sessions in other areas to be considered soon after. Unfortunately, the lockdown postponed these plans, so Elizabeth considered how she and her small team could continue to help in the meantime. They had already built such strong relationships with their participants, and were determined not to leave them in the lurch.
Elizabeth says, “Improving balance, flexibility, strength and general fitness is more important now than ever, when a fall requiring hospitalisation could expose people to the virus. So we decided to take FIT FOR GOOD online with Jordan, Mira and Rob each providing one video session a week. To help those with limited mobility or who are recovering from injury, Mira also provides a seated fitness session every Thursday. All sessions are completely free of charge. We are being funded by donations until we are able to hold physical sessions again.
“Each session starts with a mobility warm up for the major joints and muscle groups, followed by a varying combination of cardiovascular work for heart health; strength work for improved bone density and joint/tissue health; functional movements to make every day tasks easier; balance work for improving stability; and core work for building a strong trunk. Each session ends with a gentle cool down and stretch.
“The sessions can be done in any clothing which is comfortable and doesn’t restrict movement. No equipment is needed, although light or moderate weights – which can be jars of pasta sauce, tins of baked beans or small bottles of water – will make the sessions more challenging.”
With the response to the program (both on and offline) being so positive, this has only confirmed to Elizabeth how much of a demand there is for accessible forms of exercise that can be adopted by people of all ages. All FIT FOR GOOD classes are designed to challenge people but not to push them beyond their capabilities – so that they can make progress safely and effectively.
Speaking about the impact that the classes are having on participants, Elizabeth says, “The response has been incredibly inspiring – some people are now doing all three sessions each week and are likely to end up in better shape than before the lockdown! We know we are changing lives, because our participants tell us how much better and more able they feel, and how their lives are improving by being stronger, more balanced and generally more fit.
“When we were still able to hold in-person sessions, we could see the improvements ourselves, week on week, as people who may have struggled a bit getting out of a chair, were now able to do squats. Knowing that this programme can improve lives and make a difference to the NHS is what inspires and motivates us.”
When lockdown restrictions ease further, Elizabeth is keen to establish exercise sessions in community centres, parish halls and other spaces around the country. Her aim is to encourage every older adult to improve their quality of life through fitness – whilst also getting the chance to socialise over a cup of tea.
Thinking about her longer term goals, the former city worker, says, “Our longer term goal is to have FIT FOR GOOD recognised as a program that can be prescribed for people by their doctors and it doesn’t have to be limited to older adults, although that’s our target audience. We have had younger people come along, who for various reasons (epilepsy, injury), aren’t able to exercise on the floor or do any high impact work.”
“My husband and I still have so much we want to do together, and our exercise routine is our commitment to making sure we can do as much as possible for as long as possible”
Elizabeth, now 63, chose to follow her passion after the end of a long career, and began making a difference to other people’s lives in a completely new role. Her decision to start Fit For Good was driven by her own love of exercise, and the desire to help others access the same benefits that it had given her.
She says, “Exercise has always been part of my life, as I come from an active family, but through our FIT FOR GOOD experience, I now realise that it’s essential to keeping me fit and active for the rest of my life. My husband and I still have so much we want to do together, and our exercise routine is our commitment to making sure we can do as much as possible for as long as possible.”
Offering a top training tip to people who are new or returning to exercise, Elizabeth concludes, “My advice would be to just keep at it. Some days training feels great, on others – maybe not so good. But once fitness becomes a part of your daily life – despite a few achy muscles – you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel in both body and mind!”