The initiative is funded by the Public Health Agency and aims to reach out to sections of the community who wouldn’t normally take part in physical activity.
It is specifically aimed at sufferers of diabetes, obesity and muscular skeletal injuries.
The project allows doctors to recommend sufferers to take up regular exercise under the supervision and direction of qualified coaches to help manage their conditions and hopefully alleviate their health problems through regular exercise.
The scheme has been hosted at Strabane’s Riversdale Leisure Centre by Vincent McCarron and in Derry’s Foyle Arena by Sean Hargan over the last year.
It has proven so popular that a third dedicated coach, Sean McCallion, has been appointed to help accommodate more clients and will be based at Templemore Sports Complex.
Sean is an experienced gym instructor who has a background in exercise and physiology and holds a Masters in Human Nutrition.
The Templemore gym will cater for clients from the city side this year while the Foyle Arena will cater for the Waterside area.
“The main focus of the programme is to offer people a way to manage their conditions through regular exercise rather than relying on medication prescribed by their Doctor,” explained Sean McCallion.
“Regular physical activity can help people stabilise their conditions and in some cases helps them make a recovery.
“For diabetics, regular exercise can help get their blood sugars under control, obesity sufferers can lose weight and people with muscular skeletal injuries such as back or shoulder pain are less likely to be in discomfort if they stay active.”
Entering a gym for the first time can be an intimidating experience but, in the few weeks since he hast started the role, Sean has already seen his clients grow in confidence and reap the health benefits of the programme.
“The biggest obstacle for people is often getting past their apprehension and nerves about being in a gym,” he admitted.
“They can come in and see people lifting big weights or going hard on the treadmill and believe that they don’t belong there.
“Elderly clients in particular need to be guided through the process in the first few weeks, it is normally from a lack of confidence rather than a lack of ability.
“Within the space of even a week you can see a huge difference in people’s confidence as they get more comfortable in their surroundings and begin to work on their programmes.
“There is no pressure on anyone to join the programme if they are referred, you can come in and learn more and, if you are happy to go ahead, we can get you up and running in the gym.”
In the first eight weeks, clients will be offered two sessions with a trainer per week and access to all other facilities within the leisure centres’ including swimming pools.
At the end of the eight week programme, reduced membership rates are available for the next four months to encourage clients to continue their progress.
Forms are available to apply for the scheme at the reception of the Foyle Arena, Templemore Sports Complex and Riversdale Leisure Centre and from your GP.
To learn more about the GP Referral Scheme phone Sean McCallion at the Templemore Sports Complex on 71 289200, Sean Hargan at the Foyle Arena on 028 71 376555 or Vincent at the Riversdale Leisure Centre on 71 382672.