BLOG: How a fitness franchise for later life is taking steps across the South West

Sarah Robens, programme manager at the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN) and 2019 Spread Academy Fellow, recently attended a fitness class by Move it or Lose it – a fitness franchise supported by the Transform Ageing programme, whose partners include the SW AHSN, Design Council, UnLtd, and the Centre for Ageing Better.
In her blog, Sarah applies what she learnt at Skid Row School, a training workshop run by the Billions Institute in Los Angeles and part of the year-long Spread Academy Fellowship, to explain how Move it or Lose it is being successfully spread across the region.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a hall in Torbay, Devon with a professional magician/social entrepreneur entertaining a group of older people in a fantastic exercise class which got them all declaring that they felt ‘warm and wonderful!’. The session was one of many fitness classes by the Move it or Lose it franchise, funded by the Transform Ageing programme which supports social entrepreneurs in the South West to meet the challenges of ageing identified by older people themselves.
What struck me whilst watching the enthusiastic and energetic dancing group were the different factors that had gone in to making this session – and the business – such a success.
Firstly, Anne, the social entrepreneur running the session, was made for this role with a background in the entertainment industry coupled with an obvious joy and ease at engaging with people, and a keen interest in fitness classes for older people.
Secondly, the programme – Move it or Lose it – provides an evidence base, clear training, support for trainers, branded equipment, as well as flexibility in how the sessions are run around a core set of activities. This last point is really important because it means that the sessions can be adapted to the setting (which range from dementia groups in nursing homes to village halls) and the people attending, as well as the interests and enthusiasms of the teacher.
Thirdly, the class had the right audience; a group of people who were prepared to try something new, but who were also supported to be there and guided to feel comfortable in what they were doing.
As an example of spread, Move it or Lose it ticks many boxes on the spread journey of ‘awareness raising’ and ‘will building’ to create behaviour change. The programme is driven by the enthusiasm of the founder and the trainees, who raise awareness through stories of impact told through video and the media, allowing people to not only hear the straightforward facts of the programme but to be engaged by the stories of participants too. Will is built by people being able to see where the programme meets need, what the impacts are (data is collected to demonstrate progress from participants), and the support given throughout and beyond training. Behaviour change emerges through the engagement of trainees in delivering the programme, resulting in session participants taking on the exercise regime and bringing those changes into their daily lives.
This approach to spread is working well for Move it or Lose it.  Since its launch in the South West in early 2018, the programme has recruited 16 instructors who now deliver classes to over 300 older people across Devon and Cornwall. The programme continues to grow in popularity and strength, producing positive outcomes among older people who are increasing their physical activity, reducing their likelihood of falls, and improving their quality of life through social interaction.
Listening to enthusiastic cries of ‘Tequila!’ as the group participants sang along to the music in their class, I saw great evidence of the importance of engaging people in whatever way works to create a successfully spreadable project!
Read more about the Move it or Lose it programme and Transform Ageing. Many of the themes Sarah draws on here come from the work of our partners at the Billions Institute – take a look!
 

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