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Innovative exercise scheme results in fewer GP visits

Residents taking part in a programme of free activity sessions in parks and open spaces in Waltham Forest, east London, have said it has improved their quality of life – with one in five saying they have visited their GP less as a result.

Waltham Forest Council was the first local authority to pilot the scheme, which has now been running since March 2014. To date 4,073 of its residents have signed up, attending a combined total of nearly 15,000 fitness sessions.

Featuring activities to suit all ages and abilities, including circuit training, boot-camps, women-only exercise classes and yoga, the sessions are free – funded entirely by the Council. Aside from the obvious health benefits, the scheme gives people the chance to exercise outside for free, and the social element of meeting new people is an attraction for many.

Valerie Anderson is one of many who has taken advantage of the scheme. She signed up with her daughter for sessions in their local Walthamstow park.

She said: “We've absolutely loved it, and I tell everyone I meet how brilliant it is. All our neighbours attend, plus friends and their children – it’s great when we all meet up on a summers evening for a Boxercise Class in the open air.”

In the 10 months the programme has been running, it’s delivered huge results. By attracting 4,000 members – 78 per cent of whom hadn’t been doing any exercise before they signed up – the scheme is creating a more active borough.

Feedback from members saw 84 per cent saying that since joining they feel their activity levels have increased, and a mammoth 97 per cent of people said the programme had improved their quality of life. And, with growing pressure on the National Health Service as the population increases and people live longer, the scheme is doing its bit to ease that burden, as 20 per cent of Our Parks members have visited their GP less often since joining the scheme.

Valerie, who said she quickly “fell in love with exercising in the local park and being out in the fresh air”, credited Our Parks as having noticeably improved her fitness levels.

She added: “The trainers are all dedicated to helping us get fit. We love the Saturday morning's yoga sessions and the Sunday boot camps are fantastic.

 “My daughter and I have both toned up and I've lost one and a half stone and feel so much healthier,” she added. 

A variety of different sessions take place throughout the year in six of the borough’s parks and there are some indoor sessions during the winter at St Saviour's School (early education centre building), Walthamstow Library and Walthamstow School for Girls.

Cllr Ahsan Khan, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “With the most green space of any London borough north of the Thames, Waltham Forest is the perfect place for an initiative like Our Parks.

“Since launching here, it’s helped thousands of local people lead healthier lives – and has been so successful that the programme has been adopted by other London boroughs.

“The figures alone show how popular it is here, with more than 4,000 residents having already signed up. So, if you’re looking to make 2015 a healthier and happier year then give Our Parks a go and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about.”

Notes to editors

Our Parks sessions take place in the following parks and open spaces in Waltham Forest:

  • Abbotts Park

  • Drapers Field

  • Langthorne Park

  • Leyton Jubilee Park

  • Lloyd Park

  • Ridgeway Park

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