Tackling loneliness through activity
Loneliness, especially among older people, is a major issue for our society. We talk to Elena Theodosiou at Your Leisure about how their FeelGood Factory is helping its customers to connect with others while staying active.
The UK is in the grip of a loneliness epidemic. It’s something most of us will experience at some point during our lives, but older people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. They may have lost friends and long term partners or find themselves socially isolated because of mobility issues.
Whatever the reason for it, loneliness is shockingly bad for our health. As harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 per cent. It also increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke as well as high blood pressure. Plus, it puts people at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia and makes them more prone to depression.
Older adults need safe and welcoming spaces where they can meet others face to face and build social connections. The FeelGood Factory in Ramsgate provides exactly that, allowing people to socially interact while taking part in power-assisted exercise to benefit both their mental and physical health.
“We have a real sense of community at the FeelGood Factory and are more inviting than the average gym, which some people fine intimidating. You can use a gym for months without anyone saying hello to you, but when our members spot a new user, they’ll talk to them straight away, explain the types of things we do and how they’re going to love it. We are a very friendly, welcoming bunch,” says supervisor Elena Theodosiou.
The studio, equipped with a power-assisted circuit from Innerva, has 350-400 members, most of whom are aged over 65. On average, clients use the studio three times a week, with each visit lasting 30 to 40 minutes. At a time when so many older people are suffering with loneliness – according to Age UK, 225,000 older people often go for a week without speaking to anyone – the FeelGood Factory provides an important way for people to stay socially connected.
“A lot of my clients live on their own and we might be the only people they speak to that day. The last thing they want to do is exercise in a silent room. We chat about all sorts of things, but if it does go quiet, I go online to find the latest news stories to get the conversation flowing again in the group. Sometimes I sit in the middle of the room and we’ll all do a crossword together.”
People have made real friends at the studio. People like the two widowers who met while completing the Innerva circuit and now go on holiday together.
Elena has worked hard over the last nine years to build and sustain that vital sense of community, both in and outside of the studio.
“We do a lot of social activities outside of the FeelGood Factory. One of the groups I’ve set up is called the Motley Crew. We go out to lunch or dinner to celebrate birthdays and up to London to see shows. We’ve got plenty of social activities coming up this year. I organise it all. It helps to build community so clients keep coming back,” she says.
The FeelGood Factory is helping to alleviate loneliness and social isolation in the local community by providing a safe space where older people can exercise to maintain their independence while socialising with their peers.
Elena says regular use of the Innerva equipment has helped clients tie shoelaces again, get about without their walking sticks and come off medication altogether. More than this, the social nature of the circuit provides that vital interaction that everyone needs to thrive.