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Virtual teams can help people with long-term health conditions stay active

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Posted 29th October 2020

We Are Undefeatable is promoting new ways to be physically active as coronavirus restrictions tighten across England again.

We Are Undefeatable is encouraging people with long-term health conditions to keep active despite many areas of England being under new coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions.

The campaign, which is led by 15 major health charities and inspires people to be physically active in any way that works for them by sharing real life stories and experiences, is promoting Team Undefeatable which is made up of virtual teams people can get involved with at home.

Former England international footballers Emile Heskey and Kelly Smith have backed the innovative initiative, which comes at a time when new figures have revealed the impact lockdown had on activity levels during the early part of the pandemic.

The most recent Active Lives Adult Survey revealed that inactivity rose by 11% for people with long-term health conditions between mid-March and mid-May, with a quarter of people living with such a condition saying they will not return to communal sport and leisure centres until there’s a vaccine, or coronavirus is no longer a threat in the UK.

This is despite widespread understanding that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some long-term health conditions by up to 40%.

Regular bouts of exercise also help improve immune function and reduce systemic inflammation, leading researchers to suggest that physical activity could reduce the severity of coronavirus symptoms and shorten recovery times.

Online communities can help people to keep moving when many of the activities they normally enjoy are no longer available in an accessible form.

Walking football and dance programmes are available on the We Are Undefeatable website and there are handy tips for setting up a virtual team, as well as advice for coaches on how to tailor sessions for people living with health conditions.

The programmes have been proven to work, with groups coming together virtually to stay active and support each other during tough times brought on by the pandemic.

Keira Walters, who is part of a virtual walking football team, said being a member had helped her while being asked to shield.

“I had a kidney transplant 13 years ago and have to take immunosuppressive drugs every day” she explained. “During lockdown, I was asked by my renal team at my local hospital to shield for the full three months, making physical activity challenging. I also suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, which was prompted purely from the pandemic.

“The virtual walking football team was genuinely a lifeline for me – getting active with a group of like-minded individuals has given me focus and purpose. I feel as though I have learnt so much from the virtual team members, including increasing my awareness of other people’s long-term health conditions and how we can build a genuine support network together. I honestly can say I have a spring in my step again.”

Inclusive dance teacher Katie Mason has been involved with a dance squad that includes eight women living with various long-term health conditions such as MS, cancer, cerebral palsy and osteoporosis.

“My passion is making dance as inclusive as possible for as many people,” she said. “I truly believe that it has the power to bring people together in a way that is creative and fun, but can be tailored to different abilities and or conditions.

“Our classes were a time when the individuals could just think about dancing and enjoy the feeling rather than worry about what they may be going through. I’d urge anyone to set up their own groups, find an online or in-person group (if allowed to do so), or just follow some moves and dance alone.”

The squad, who had been rehearsing on Zoom together for 10 weeks, decided to surprise their friends and family with an emotional virtual dance performance instead.

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