An innovative scheme to help people with medical conditions become more physically active has been launched in leisure centres across Cornwall.

Working with GP practices and other healthcare professionals, the Healthwise initiative has been developed by GLL, the charitable social enterprise organisation that runs 13 Cornish leisure centres on behalf of Cornwall Council.

“The scheme focuses on people with medical conditions or other specialist needs that might discourage or prevent them from exercising,” said GLL’s Health Lead, Ian Hick. “After they’ve been referred by a doctor or other health professional, they get a one-to-one session with a Healthwise instructor in their local leisure centre – followed by as many subsequent individual sessions as they need to make sure they are confident and safe in the exercise environment.  During the first twelve weeks, the aim is to establish a routine and exercise habit. Once they’re happy and safe to carry out their own regime, they can attend classes and do activities as often as they like.”

Beverley Simmonds, 60, was a regular gym attendee until a cardiac incident last year resulted in a two-week hospital stay. Fitted with a pacemaker, she didn’t know what sort of exercise she could do until meeting personal trainer and Healthwise facilitator Ellen Hunn at St Austell Leisure Centre, following a referral.

“Ellen devised programmes suited to my ability using different muscle groups and showing me how to use the gym equipment correctly,” she said. “At the beginning Ellen was by my side encouraging me and monitoring my progress but, as my confidence and stamina levels improved, that close supervision was no longer necessary. I found the Healthwise course a very positive experience and would be happy to recommend it.”

Other beneficiaries of the scheme at St Austell were similarly delighted with what they had achieved.

“When I first joined the programme, I struggled to walk for more than a few minutes and I couldn’t straighten my body,” said Sylvia Johnson. “Now I can stand straight, walk further and my sciatic nerve pain is improving. The exercise puts me in a good mood, helps with my depression, I’ve lost weight and my body is stronger too.”

David Truscott has had a triple heart bypass.

“The psychological effect of the process cannot be overestimated,” he said. “The centre is friendly, the gym well-equipped and it isn’t all lycra and sweat as I feared. I actually look forward to workout days. At the age of 72 I’ve become a gym junkie!”

Natalie Trudgian admits to having done very little physical activity before and is nervous of trying anything new.

“Ellen has helped me gain confidence in my body and my health,” she said. “I feel fitter and healthier than I have done in years.”

Feeling anxious about getting started in the gym is very common, according to Ellen Hunn.

“The sessions with me are easy going and flexible,” she said. “I’ve seen some amazing improvements in my client’s health and wellbeing – including positive changes in their mental health, weight, confidence, strength, fitness and lifestyle. It’s very rewarding and something that I love doing.”

Patients referred to leisure centres under the Healthwise scheme are eligible for reduced membership at a cost of just £20 per month in the first year.

Centres taking part are Bodmin Leisure Centre; Helston Sports Centre; Liskeard Leisure Centre; Launceston Leisure Centre; St Austell Leisure Centre; Saltash Leisure Centre; Ships and Castles Leisure Centre; Bude Splash Leisure Pool; St Ives Leisure Centre; Truro Leisure Centre; Wadebridge Leisure Centre and Newquay Waterworld.

For more information, email or call 01579 342 544 Ext 5796