We spoke to Bernie Cass, who works at Stocks Hill Centre, which is a mental health service run by Adult Social Care in Armley to find out what she is doing to help people be more active and healthy.
Bernie, it’s clear that you’re committed to a keep fit regime (blush!) – what do you think the benefits of keeping active are?
I believe in the old saying – “healthy body, healthy mind”; it really has a place for me. For anyone that’s had personal experiences with mental health, it is so true that by keeping active and keeping fit, you feel stronger not just in your body but so much stronger in your mind as well – a physical workout actually helps to work out my mind too! By keeping active, I’ve personally found that I now sleep much better and can handle working day demands with so much more ease and less stress. I’ve also had a boost to my own self-confidence as I have managed to lose a considerable amount of weight.
There are health benefits too of course. Being active could possibly mean I’m less likely to develop osteoporosis, diabetes or any other weight related issues. It’s more than that though. As I grow older, I want to remain as independent as I possibly can. I’m actually looking forward to being a really active pensioner; I don’t want to be dependent on other people just because I may struggle physically. The more I do now, hopefully the stronger I’ll be as old age catches up with me – being active really doesn’t have to stop as soon as I start collecting my pension; which I will do, but perhaps on my bike rather than on the bus!
The final benefit is the sociable side to keeping fit. Whether you choose to join a gym; a walking group; a crown green bowls team or a parachuting club, these clubs are often so friendly, warm and welcoming to new members. I’ve met so many like-minded and positive people through getting fit; it’s been great fun too.
Is there anyone in particular who should get active?
I believe everyone should be active regardless of their ability or age. It’s so easy to find excuses for not doing something, but how about finding an excuse to do something? We all could, if we tried because it’s really a question of attitude. Everyone can do something – it really doesn’t have to become an ‘all or nothing approach’. Start with small steps; at least you’re doing something – just do it!
Activity in any shape or form is necessary to maintain a healthy balance – that’s mentally as well as physically. On the plus side, I also believe in the long run I am going to save my GP thousands in healthcare costs! That’s got to be a good thing for the economy – benefits all round!
I had a great idea that a bell should ring every day at 2pm and we should all go to a local open space and do 30 minutes of Tai Chi – it should be the law although I’m not sure it’ll ever happen! Thinking of the British weather, I’m not sure that would work either!
It doesn’t have to be sweat bands and swimathons – for someone who is just starting out, what advice would you give?
Find something you like or used to like as a kid. It doesn’t have to be going to the gym – it could be anything from taking the dog on a really good walk (or borrow the neighbour’s dog if you don’t have one); joining a walking group, to using what’s available at home – run/walk up and down the stairs, or start getting off the bus a couple of stops earlier. As you get fitter you might want to be a bit more adventurous, join a gym, a keep fit class or swimming. But most important listen to your body and if you’re unsure, it’s always best to speak to your GP.
What sort of activities do you help run and for who?
In the past I have facilitated a walking group and supported the Natural World with the Community Alternatives Team, this is where we take people to particularly beautiful/relaxing local places for a guided walk. At present I facilitate the camera club and a couple of the group were surprised at how active that is. Getting out and about, taking photos of landscapes or more urban settings, all means you’re walking.
A lot of the work I do involves supporting people to get engaged in activities like going to the gym or joining a local group. Sometimes people just need the encouragement – a little help towards that first step to fitness. This could be finding the information on the ‘how’ to start and where. We have so many fantastic facilities in Leeds that are for everyone, no matter how fit they are (or aren’t)! The Leeds City Council website has all sorts of information on what’s available – it is really worth a look.
What are the most popular activities?
The most popular activities are the walking groups – the getting ‘out and about’. This can be local to where groups live, or further afield. It’s really sociable too. I spend most of the time chatting on the walks, meeting new people and it really can be great fun. Before I know it, we’ve come to the end and the group’s had a great time. If this is rounded off with a hot cup of tea – that’s all the better!
It’s the same with the camera club – the main focus is to capture images but what you often don’t realise is that you’ve walked a mile to get the picture. But it’s not just about the walking. It’s about sharing what you’ve captured with others in the group. Swapping tips and techniques; sharing experiences and often making friends in the process.
If you could share one message with our readers, what would that be?
You don’t have to be working towards being ‘marathon fit’ or becoming what I call ‘supermodel thin’ – come on, most of those photos are touched up anyway! My message would be, have a go. You’ve nothing to lose but weight; anxiety; isolation and so much more to gain – healthy mind; healthy body; friends and fun.
Thank you Bernie for taking the time to speak to us and sharing with us how you help people stay active!