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Case study: Unique Hastings project teaches women how to use physical activity to improve mental health

Case study: Unique Hastings project teaches women how to use physical activity to improve mental health

A unique project for women in Hastings helped demonstrate the importance of using physical activity to improve mental health. 

Believe in You ran two different groups for women from Hastings, St Leonards and surrounding areas, between September and December 2023, with one focused on women aged 16-29 and another for women aged 30-59.

Funding came from the East Sussex Women of the Year Luncheon Grant, distributed by Active Sussex.

Natalie Greenall from Believe in You said: “Our objectives were always to improve both mental and physical health across both age ranges, and we feel we did this for all participants in some way. 

“We included a session for the 30-59’s, which was gym-based, to improve confidence for the ladies if they go to a gym environment, knowing what to do with the equipment, safely. 

“We also introduced both ages to concepts such as meditation and mindfulness, and encouraged the ladies to use these tools to positively regulate their emotional wellbeing beyond the course.

“We had previously offered similar sessions to men in the area, and found them to be really impactful. 

“Therefore we wanted to offer an engaging and accessible to all project, making accessing mental health support easy, and engage women in fitness over a period of time, to promote physical activity as a coping tool and overall asset to their lives. 

“What we offer is fairly unique in the area, and we were hopeful that the projects would be really useful to ladies in Hastings and the surrounding.”

Eight sessions ran for each group and attendance was good, with 57 women attending the younger age group and 39 attending the 30-59 group.

Having run both projects for men and women, Believe in You spotted a very interesting difference.

“Women will access support far earlier than men,” revealed Natalie. “The ladies we worked with reported low-level anxiety, stress and low self-confidence when referring themselves to the course, however, the men we work with are often far further down the line in terms of needing support and with more complex, severe mental health issues.”

For the women’s projects, it was decided that it would be an all-female environment, with personal trainers who also had an understanding and level of lived experience in managing mental health.

Natalie Turner Fitness, Sandra Norris PT, and Active Hastings, ran the sessions with Natalie Greenall leading on the mental health side. 

Natalie added: “Natalie Turner PT gave a talk on her experience of suffering and recovering from an eating disorder as part of the 16-29 project, and Sandra, who led on the 30-59’s fitness, was open about her own experiences of anxiety within sessions.” 

The sessions were held at Helenswood Sports Centre and were split into two parts – 45 minutes of mental health workshops and 45 minutes of physical activity.

Mental health topics ranged from anxiety, low mood, and positive body confidence to menopause and mental health. 

These sessions included self-reflective activities, group conversations and tools to take beyond the projects. 

The physical activity offering changed each week, from circuit training to a gym workout to weights – all designed to help the women grow in their own confidence.

Natalie said: “An aspect of the projects which we always kept at the forefront was to keep sessions fun – there were some heavy topics within the workshops, but we always managed to have fun too. 

“The sessions also added an element of friendship too, particularly amongst the 16-29’s who all often stayed to chat with each other, and buddied up to attend fitness classes beyond the project together via a Whatsapp group.”

One participant who came along to the sessions was struggling with her mental health following the death of her son in an accident the year before.

Despite having previously gone to the gym, she had lost confidence following the tragic incident, had disengaged with fitness and had put on 3.5 stone.

Natalie said: “She said she found the sessions useful to help her process her feelings of loss and trauma, and after week two, told us after the session that she had decided that she could now re-join a gym and start to get her life back on track. 

“And she did – she took up the offer Active Hastings arranged discounted gym memberships with Freedom Leisure across the sites in Hastings, and reported re-engaging with the gym as a way of helping her cope. 

“We also ensured we signposted her to specific grief support agencies locally, so she knew how to access further support should she need it.”

Following feedback from the participants and the use of well-being scales, the project saw a 113% increase in 16-29 year old participants feeling optimistic about the future and 125% increase in feeling able to think clearly.

With the 30-59 year group, there was 100% increase when saying they felt relaxed and a 75% increase in feeling close to people.

16-29’s:

  • Feeling Optimistic about the future – 113% increase
  • Feeling Useful – 50% increase
  • Feeling Relaxed – 88% increase
  • Being able to deal with problems – 88% increase
  • Feeling able to think clearly – 125% increase
  • Feeling close to people – 88% increase
  • Being able to make up my mind – 100% increase

30-59’s

  • Feeling Optimistic about the future – 75% increase
  • Feeling Useful – 25% increase
  • Feeling Relaxed – 100% increase
  • Being able to deal with problems – No change
  • Feeling close to people – 75% increase
  • Being able to make up my mind – 50% increase
Four women exercising inside a large room
Believe in You exercise class
A woman sitting down talking in front of a screen which depicts a mental wellness whell and mentions an overall mental wellbeing check
Believe in You exercise class
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