Stronger their way

Tamsin Starr and Lauren Connors hear the stories of three people with long-term conditions who found strengthening significantly improved their quality of life

Stronger their way
Patient stories [Photos: Lorne Campbell/Guzelian]

Sheffield-based Sara Ali, 28 was born with a cyst on her brain, and has cerebellar ataxia. 

‘Growing up, my ataxia limited me in terms of what I could and wanted to do,’ she said. 

‘I never was able to ride a bike and had to give up dancing and other sports I enjoyed like netball.’ And over time, new challenges have arisen.

‘The fear of falling has now become more of an issue as I do fall frequently and because of my weak core muscles I find it difficult to get myself up,’ she said.

‘Over the past years these problems have got worse, and I constantly feel both mentally and physically exhausted trying to compensate.’ 

But an intervention by her physiotherapist has helped Sara gain both strength and confidence – not that she was initially convinced.

‘When she first mentioned strengthening I had this preconceived idea that I’d end up looking like a bodybuilder,’ she said. 

‘I didn’t want to look that muscular! But my physio helped explain that I wouldn’t.’ 

It’s never easy but knowing the benefits it brings helps.

‘At times when I don’t feel like exercising, I have to push myself, but when I actually do it I feel so much better,’ she said.

‘My mood is improved and I feel more motivated for other things. The feeling of release from a good stretch may last a couple of hours but the mental effects last longer. 

‘There are so many benefits with strengthening. I feel more energised after doing it, and it feels really good to be able to do more.’

Being able to do more has opened horizons for Sara and led to motivational goals. 

‘I want to go travelling and be able to go on adventures that involve a lot of physical activity like climbing,’ she said. 

‘That goal makes strengthening easier and make more sense. 

‘It’s not a quick fix and there is a long way to go before I feel fully strong but I can look forward to how I want to feel and be.’

Andy Ridge, 62, a father of two from Sheffield, had a stroke on holiday overseas three years ago.

‘I spent three days being pushed around on wheelchair, with no use of my left side, slurring my words, not being able to walk or eat properly,’ he said.

‘I remember lying on my bed in the ship thinking, “That’s the end of climbing, cycling and guitar playing”.  It was real doom and gloom.’

After discharge from physiotherapy back in the UK, Andy felt he needed to do more and joined a weekly strengthening class led by a physiotherapist.

‘I could feel the benefits straight away as it helped identify my weaknesses and work on them. I got better and stronger. 

‘Though I was fit and strong before the stroke, I have even better all-over body strength and balance now. For me, exercise and strengthening and conditioning makes me feel better. It has really future proofed me.’

The experience has left Andy a big advocate of strengthening.

‘I’d recommend strength and conditioning to anyone – just start doing it gently and stick with it. The dividends are huge,’ he said.

‘It’s made me appreciate the simple things I couldn’t do because of the stroke, like cutting the grass and doing housework. I’ll not take them for granted again.’

London fitness instructor, Kat Francois, 48, was diagnosed with Adenomyosis, a uterine condition, seven years ago. 

Being healthy, fit and active was always a goal but for years she was in extreme pain. 

‘My Adenomyosis causes me to vomit whilst menstruating, leading to weight loss and excess blood loss,’ she said.

‘It’s excruciatingly painful leaving me drained and exhausted.’ 

Kat went on a mission to manage her symptoms and learned about the benefits of strength training.  ‘I felt the benefits quickly,’ she added.  

‘It was little things I noticed at first like being able to open a jar of sauce, move furniture about and carrying bags of shopping home but over time I found that it was helping me to recover more quickly after bouts of illness.

‘It helped me to manage and feel better about all the physical symptoms that come with my condition, and made me feel good about my body when it felt like it had given up on me for a long time.

‘In that sense it has helped to me to build my confidence and trust back up with myself and I am still amazed and surprised at how strong I’ve become.’

Read more about their strong stories here.

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