Supporting Somali community to better health and fewer falls

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Somalian community strength and balance class

Therapy staff and exercise instructors from Guy’s and St Thomas’ are helping Somali women and men to reduce their risk of falls and improve their general health and well-being through free weekly exercise classes.

The women-only classes at the Camberwell community centre provide ladies with an opportunity to exercise freely, without the hijab (a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of males outside their immediate family), which can restrict movement. Men-only classes are also held weekly at the Somalian Integration and Development Association.

One in three people over 65 years old has a fall each year, which is around 16,000 people in Lambeth and Southwark. In 2016/17, 86% of patients attending a Guy’s and St Thomas’ community exercise class saw an improvement in mobility.      

Mrs Hibo Adan, 65, from Bermondsey, says: “I’m usually a sickly person – I have problems with my muscles, I suffer with arthritis and I have low Vitamin D and calcium levels. It got to a point where I couldn’t walk and I was told that I needed a back and knee operation, which had just a 50% chance of success.

“The physiotherapists at King’s College Hospital told me I needed to make big changes in my life if I wanted to avoid an operation. Then I came across this group. That was 2016 and I’ve been coming to this group ever since.

“I used to get heart palpitations, needed injections in my knees and walked with crutches. But no more – the classes have made a big difference to me.”

Mrs Amina Mohamed, 68, from Camberwell, says: “I was big. I was carrying around 103kgs but thanks to the classes I’m now down to 85kgs. I just couldn’t carry the weight anymore – it was affecting my knees and I had high blood pressure.

“Having a female instructor (Gabrielle Tracy) means I’m free to wear just a tracksuit and top rather than the hijab. It’s too hot and uncomfortable to exercise in it.  I love coming to the classes – it’s like stress relief. We stay back afterwards too, have a chat and a cup of tea.”

Guy’s and St Thomas’ run 37 strength and balance classes in community venues across Lambeth and Southwark, such as leisure centres, libraries, church halls and even fire stations.

Patients can attend classes with friends and family or carers, which can help if English is a second language and they need help to interpret the therapist’s instructions.

Mr Abdi Ali, 54, who attends the men-only classes, says: “Going to the gym or doing physical activity is not really part of our culture. Somali men like talking – having a coffee and a chat. After the class I’m more focused, I eat better, I listen better. It would be great to see more men join the group – it can make a big difference to your health.”

Judith Hall, clinical lead and head of the community rehabilitation and falls service, says: “Our community rehabilitation and falls service offers strength and balance exercise classes to suit everyone.

“Having a fall can really knock your confidence and may lead to a serious injury. There are many reasons why people can experience falls. Two of the most common reasons are poor muscle strength and reduced balance.  Research shows that if you participate in a falls prevention exercise programme aimed to improve strength and balance and continue with these exercises regularly, you can significantly reduce the risk of a fall.”

To find out more about strength and balance classes watch our film or call our strength and balance helpline on 020 3049 5424.

Last updated: March 2022

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