A former NHS physio and College of Medicine Trustee and Council member who decided to give free online exercise classes in March 2020 to help people struggling to keep fit during the strictest Covid lockdown has revealed how her classes are still going strong more than two years on.
Retired Chartered Physiotherapist Sarah Bazin, who lives in Warwickshire, told the College of Medicine that she regularly entertains up to as many as 40 people – from across the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands – for the daily morning exercise sessions which include chair, balance and breathing work.
The free sessions take place on week days between 9:30am and 10am, and see a diverse ranges of ages joining in, with the youngest in their sixties, and the oldest attendee 88.
Breathing exercises are a key part of the class, says Sarah, including a five-minute relaxation exercise.
She says: ‘We do breathing deeply every day to fully expand the lungs, because if you’re fairly sedentary, you’re not really doing anything to get yourself out of breath. I say to those in the class that they should look to get slightly out of breath or to breathe more deeply to help the cardiovascular system.’
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There are a range of stretches and exercises too where class members use a chair for support. A sample exercise might be leg strengthening – by straightening one leg out and counting for six, before swapping to the other foot.
More than two years of week day classes is a huge commitment and Sarah says that she may look at reducing the number of classes in time – but for now, the sessions prove just as important for mental health as they do for physical well-being.
Don and Jennie Bull have been regulars at Sarah’s classes and say they try and continue what they’ve learned at the weekends. The daily interaction with others has, they explain, helped ease the isolation of the lockdowns.
Says Jennie: ‘We enjoyed close contact with all the participants, despite being spread all over the United Kingdom, during the lockdowns – with participants also from France, Ireland and the Netherlands, and this was a great way to counteract the negative aspects of isolation.
‘We have become a community in itself, and although we have never met most of the participants, we enjoy conversing with them on a daily basis, with the effect that Sarah has to mute the screens so that we can get on with the exercises!’
Rosie and Peter Martin agree. Rosie says: ‘My husband and I joined the class, through a mutual friend, in January 2021 and have been keen followers ever since, deriving much benefit in our mobility, stamina and concentration ability.
‘My husband, Peter, is 88-years-old and I am 86-years-old. The classes are so valuable as it is our aim for the day to be up and ready for the class at 9.30 a.m., starting with the interaction of other members, which is always interesting.
‘Sarah’s exercises start with breathing; head turning; arm stretching – all angles – up, across and down to ankles; then each leg in turn – swinging; balance; lunging; followed by running on the spot and finishing with tightening/relaxing of muscles and, as Sarah calls it, ‘me’ time to unwind.
‘All in all, it’s a superb, well-balanced half hour of exercises, using every bone and muscle in the body, and all the time having the reason for every exercise clearly and meaningfully explained.’
Sarah says the classes have improved her own fitness and offered a mental boost too: ‘When we were all locked down. It was very closed in and we couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t do anything and couldn’t see anyone, it felt an honour to be able to do the classes, to be able to share the skills I’ve learned in 40 years of working within the NHS. To help people, both physically and psychologically, it helped me too.’
As a Trustee and Council Member of The College of Medicine, Sarah says her view of integrated medicine and social prescribing has evolved through her own career as a physiotherapist.
‘When you first qualify, you set off and you think you’ve got the answer to everything. As you go along, you realise that there are other approaches, perhaps yoga may offer something or chiropractic may be helpful. Whichever ‘other’ thing it is, if it can help a patient then you become less precious [about conventional approaches], which is what I’ve become over the years.’
She adds: ‘I think the whole ethos of The College of Medicine is so wonderful. It allows people that freedom to have a taster but also opens their minds to notice that there are other things available.’