Opinion Wellbeing

A Zest for friendships through physical activity

Helen Core, Wellbeing Manager, Anchor

Helen Core, Wellbeing Manager for Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for people in later life worked as a personal trainer before she joined the social care sector and has seen first-hand how physical activity can help combat social isolation, form friendships and improve overall mental wellbeing.

When you hear the words ‘exercise’ and ‘physical activity’ the last thing you might think of is that this could lead to long lasting friendships. I’m sure you don’t believe me when I say that one of the best places to find new friends is through movement.

When I first joined the fitness industry, I was self-employed running group exercise classes in the community (boxing fitness, circuits, Pilates and more) and working with personal training clients and, while there is a perception that a lot of exercise environments can be intimidating, this was never something I experienced. New members to the group sessions were welcomed and encouraged, and I saw friendships blossom that last to this day – it was never about who was the fastest or the strongest it was about working to whatever your best effort was that day, the improvements you make each time and celebrating those achievements together.  Even for me as the trainer I forged connections that last to this day. I stopped teaching my classes and personal training work to join the ranks of the employed, eight years ago, but the bond is still there and I have continued to see friendships blossom as a Wellbeing Manager, delivering the Zest programme, an inclusive physical activity programme designed to be suitable for all needs and abilities, across our Anchor care homes.

At Anchor’s Primrose Court care home, where shorter Zest movement sessions are delivered directly before lunch it has helped improve connections between residents. Once or twice a week while they wait for lunch service to begin, colleagues at the home go table to table giving residents gentle exercises to try out while they wait. Lifting their arms and stretching upwards to wherever is comfortable for them and working on their posture. Not everyone is open and willing to join in with this activity but those who do join in with the exercises, become much happier and enthusiastic. Residents often end up talking about the activity and sometimes laughing to each other about how well some of the movements are executed, opening up discussion and providing social interaction.

At our other care home, The Manor House in Barnard Castle, a resident loves her Zest movement sessions so much she tries out the exercises outside the sessions and that is partly because another resident who regularly takes part recommended it to her and encouraged her to come, as she wasn’t sure about attending to begin with.

Their friendship has blossomed as a result of the Zest programme and it is just one of a number of activities, we offer across our care locations to help residents interact and bond, enhancing their wellbeing.

Zest has grown from strength to strength since its introduction in 2020. 2023 saw the introduction of Zest Balance, our falls prevention programme, and Zest To Connect for people living with dementia. This is in addition to live sessions, Zoom dances and our YouTube channel where recordings of Zest sessions are available to residents, making them accessible at any time.

Friendship is one of the forgotten benefits of physical activity but can turn out to be the most impactful.




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