By Philippa Shirtcliffe, Head of Care Quality, QCS (www.qcs.co.uk)
“Less exercise and more TV” is how some headline writers summarised University College London’s (UCL) survey on physical activity during the lockdown. UCL’s study, which included 70,000 people, found that 40 percent of them did less exercise in the last lockdown than in the first, while 19 percent said they watched more television.
Another poll – this time con- ducted by the Youth Sport Trust – which was taken last year – found that 73 percent of teachers interviewed say that “children have returned (to school) with low levels of physical fitness.
The care sector has been badly affected too. I’m unaware of any polls that have been conducted surveying exercise levels amongst care staff.
However, anecdotally at least, I can say that many professional carers, that I have spoken to, say that long hours, which are often compounded by staff shortages or staff absences, give them little time to take a walk for enjoyment, go for a run or take a swim – hobbies that many of them took for granted before the pandemic.
THE IMPORTANT OF MOVEMENT
But why bring up this subject now? Well, research published on the ‘On Your Feet Britain’ website, a national activity awareness day, which takes place this Thursday, extols both the benefits of “regular movement”.
While most of us are already aware of the value of exercise, the ‘On Your Feet Britain’ campaign page also reminds us that physical activity is not only important for physical health but “increases concentration” and “improves motivation”.
At QCS, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector, it’s something that my colleagues and me are all too aware of. Our senior leadership team openly encourages staff to make time for exercise and mindfulness. We use Microsoft Teams to run group yoga classes, we schedule ‘walking’ meetings and participate in exercise and wellbeing challenges. Last year we took part in the Kaido Challenge, which required team members to do a set amount of exercise each day for forty days. It helped to forge a wonderful sense of comradeship within each team, not to mention improving group fitness.
EXERCISE FOR MENTAL WELLBEING
Unfortunately, not every leadership team or every sector recognises the value of exercise as a vehicle for wellbeing, or has the luxury of doing so.
Take the care sector, for example. It is currently experiencing a men- tal health crisis. According to the GMB Union, which includes 620,000 workers from a myriad of different sectors, 75 percent of professional carers have suffered “worsened mental health” as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
While we need to see greater investment in mental health services, wobble rooms and counselling, there is no doubt that exercise – both physical and mental – has a key role to play too. Exercise stimulates endorphins, which leave people feeling happier, more positive, and, most importantly, less stressed.
COURAGE AND LEADERSHIP NEEDED TO FOSTER A CULTURE OF EXERCISE
But it takes strong leadership from Registered Managers to have the courage to insist that walking, running, swimming, cycling, yoga or mediation are built into the average working day.
Implementing such a programme, however, is not as hard as it sounds. It is really about making movement an inherent part of the culture. It’s also about starting with small changes. So, for example, ask yourself, ‘does every video conferencing meeting need to be conducted while seated?’ If not, think how many of your Zoom meetings could be carried out while standing or even walking? If you enjoy a lunchtime walk, then why not combine it with a Zoom meeting? Could you do your morning handover as a stand-up meeting?
There is also affirmative action that only Registered Managers can take to encourage movement amongst staff. If, for example, several staff members have professed a desire to cycle to and from work, do they have the indoor and outdoor facilities that they need to support their bike rides? In other words, are there enough secure bike racks outside the care home? And, are there showering facilities?
GOVERNMENT HELP ALSO NEEDED
Alternatively, if it’s the gym or the swimming pool that care professionals most want to access, then Registered Managers from larger carer groups may find that local leisure centres are prepared to offer their staff discounts. However, it is likely that staff working for smaller residential homes and domiciliary care providers may not be automatically able to benefit in the same way. My advice, therefore, would be to write to the local authority and re-emphasise the point that care workers are extremely valued members of the community and have a right to use all of the facilities that those earning a higher wage enjoy. Low pay should be a barrier for hard working people – particularly care workers – to access leisure centres. In addition to the vast slew of reforms that the government has promised to make, it should also consider providing care sector workers with free access to leisure centres and mental health services.
When taking into account the selflessness, dedication and courage of care professionals in the pandemic, this is a suggestion that the vast majority of the population would agree with, but anyone who takes a different view should at least see the practical side of the argument for doing so. In addition to better pay, care workers desperately need to have access to these services and key facilities. There is a possibility that this won’t be the last pandemic we see in our lifetimes, and if we are to contain future health crises, then we’ll need an agile, resourceful and resilient army of health care workers to make a significant impact. They’ll need to be both physically and mentally strong to demonstrate the same bravery and dedication that today’s care workers have exhibit- ed in the current pandemic.
Sadly, when this crisis finally begins to abate, many care workers will leave the profession feeling that they have could not give any more. Perhaps the greatest learning point is that as a society we did not protect and safeguard care worker’s mental health. We need to learn the lessons of history and give our care professionals the tools and the sup- port they need to make a profound difference.
Promoting movement on Thursday, April, 29th may not seem like a big step in reaching that goal, but if it persuades even a handful of Registered Managers to include exercise as a raft of holistic wellbeing measures that safeguard mental and physical wellbeing, then it is has done its job.
ON YOUR FEET THEN, BRITAIN!
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