Physical activity and health: your stories

Physical activity can have a positive impact on people with long-term illnesses

Physical activity can help those with chronic illness

Approximately 30% of the population in England have at least one long-term health condition.

Here, we take a look at the impact physical activity can have on managing those illnesses.

The UK Chief Medical Officer's physical activity guidelines highlight that moderate physical activity can help manage more than 20 chronic conditions, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions.

Physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing further chronic conditions by up to 40%, which is why we have teamed up with the Richmond Group of Charities and awarded £1.7 million of National Lottery funding to deliver unique pilot studies in conjunction with ten of the country's leading health charities.

The impact physical activity can have on the lives of those suffering from the conditions these charities focus on can be significant...

Case studies

Ellie Lynch - Alzheimer's Society

Ellie, 64, from Peterborough

Ellie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014. She has a very complex job, teaching adults ICT in two colleges, has a very busy life and is the sort of person that would remember everything.

She became very aware that she had to write things down because she was starting to forget, and everything started to become a struggle.

She was concerned and booked an appointment with her GP – whom she says is brilliant and regularly visits him because she has Type 2 diabetes.

He suspected that it would be Alzheimer's and referred Elie to a memory clinic straight away, where she underwent comprehensive testing.

In a matter of months she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Ellie claims she was able to swim before she could walk and has continued to swim throughout her adult life.

She believes it benefits her physical and mental well-being.

Ellie visits her local swimming pool, in a nearby hotel, at least twice a week and says the hotel staff are great and that small things – like the entrance to the pool being right by the car park – make things really easy for her to continue going.

Ellie credits her love of swimming and keeping fit with helping her to manage her dementia.

Jan Casson - Breast Cancer Now

Jan, 60, from Wallsend

Jan is the fourth member of her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer – she saw her mum and sister both lose their battles with the disease, before being diagnosed herself.

Given her family history, Jan believed she was likely to develop the disease, so decided she was going to be as fit and healthy as possible in order to fight it, should she get it,

So, in 2006, age 47, she began running and completed the Great North Run with her sister.

In 2012, Jan herself was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

She has carried on running, despite chemotherapy, as it helped her cope with what was happening to her and she felt it benefitted her mental and physical health.

She stepped up the exercise and ran the Great North Run in both 2015 and 2016, and the London Marathon in 2017 – she is now fitter than ever and is more committed to exercise than she was before her diagnosis.

With an optimistic outlook and inspired by her family, she is incredibly passionate about fundraising for research into breast cancer.

Bob Swindell - Diabetes UK

Bob, 48, from London

Bob was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2013. Since his diagnosis, he has made some significant changes to his lifestyle and diet and has lost 50kg.

He now uses exercise and diet to control his diabetes and no longer needs to use medication to control his condition.

One of the keys to Bob’s transformation was his discovery of running, a passion that has led him to run several marathons and become a parkrun champion for diabetes.

“I’d be the first to admit that I didn’t have the healthiest lifestyle,” he revealed. “I’d been feeling run down, was unfit and had been putting on weight for years.

“But it was using the Know Your Risk tool at a Diabetes UK Roadshow event that gave me the nudge I needed to see my GP and begin making some changes to my health.

“My diagnosis came as a shock but without it who knows what my health would be like today, or what serious complications I may have faced.”

Emma Malcolm - Rethink Mental Illness

Emma, 48, from London

Emma has lived with depression since her early teens. In her early 20s she attempted to end her life.

Whilst she has had the support of professionals, as well as friends and family, she notes that taking up running made the real difference for her.

At age 40, having hardly completed any exercise in her life, she signed up to run the London Marathon.

Even though she injured herself six weeks prior, she still went ahead and completed it because she enjoyed running so much.

Now aged 48, she is part of a regular parkrun group and refers to them as her ‘parkrun family’ – many of whom have experience of depression themselves.

She credits running with making a small but important difference in her life and has helped her to successfully manage her depression.

Liam Stapleton - Stroke Association

Liam, 52, from Hampshire

A former secondary school teacher, Liam had a stroke on Christmas Day, 2014.

The stroke left him unable to speak and move the right side of his body but he has made a remarkable recovery and has since lost over five stone and regularly takes part in local running races.

“Two years ago I would never had dreamt that I could run a mile, let alone ten!” he said. “I got into fitness following my stroke quite unexpectedly.

“After eight weeks of exercise I was a new man with muscular arms, 50% lower on my body fat, and the most flexible I had ever been.

“I feel so proud of what I’ve achieved since my stroke.

“Getting here and improving my fitness has not been an easy road, but my life has completely changed for the better. I’m so thankful to have had such supportive family and friends behind me.”