February 28, 2021
Laura Douglas and Anna Kharin created Neuro Heroes to motivate and empower people living with neurological conditions to keep moving. Here, they tell Nourish about their work
What was the inspiration for Neuro Heroes?
'In 2020, the year of isolation, we started to worry about the impact on people living with neurological conditions who were often stuck at home, unable to access vital services,' says Laura Douglas.
'Reduced activity can have a devastating impact on physical health for someone living with a neurological condition. As the fitness world went online and most of the population found new ways to keep fit, finding ways of maintaining physical activity levels guided by neuro experts became harder and harder. We were determined to do everything we could to ensure the pandemic didn’t cause people’s conditions to deteriorate unnecessarily. And so, Neuro Heroes was born.
'Our aim is to motivate and empower people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) to build condition-specific activity into their week. Our online group exercise sessions are led by specialist neuro physiotherapists, often focused on a specific condition, and always live.
'Sessions are crafted, using our evidence-based approach, to include exercises that help common difficulties, to try to slow symptom progression for a range of conditions. Running live sessions allows us to respond to individuals’ needs and adapt exercises in real time to different levels.'
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What makes your neuro workouts different?
'As two neuro physiotherapists with prior sport and exercise sciences degrees, we wanted to offer something different from your average repetitive physiotherapy exercise sheet. We thought that bringing a personal training approach and varying our sessions every week would help keep people engaged, and it has worked.
'We now have six weekly sessions including PD-specific and MS-specific classes, as well as a physio-led neuro Pilates group, with stroke and other sessions coming soon. We have a community of regular Heroes whose motivation and goals are at the heart of it all. We love working with them and they have helped to shape our unique offering.'
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How can certain movements help specific neuro conditions?
'The sessions address prevalent problems as well as bringing in fitness and strength training, with a condition-specific twist. For example, we know that people living with PD often have a stiff upper back, poor posture and a hard time coordinating movements. So our PD Power session might include lots of chest and back opening movements for posture and dual-tasking movements that challenge coordination and control, both of which help people to improve their mobility over time.
'Keeping things playful is a huge part of Neuro Heroes, so our fitness work (seated in some sessions, standing in others) is always done to music and with a theme. Bringing fun and laughter builds a sense of community and shared achievement, making exercising genuinely fun.
'We’ve acted out a surfing safari with balance challenges one week and organised drum solos for shoulder strength and rhythm the next – definitely nourishing for the soul!'
'Just like with eating and drinking, adding joy to something difficult can change someone’s day, boost their confidence and improve their whole outlook'
How can physiotherapy help with eating challenges?
'We often emphasise the importance of eating and drinking well during our sessions. Physical rehabilitation relies on the building blocks of nutrition that provide people with enough energy to work hard. Having the posture, stability and strength to eat and drink effectively are also essential functions which we work to maintain and improve.
'In addition to our group sessions we also offer 1:1 neuro physiotherapy, which is always goal driven and often focuses on day-to-day tasks. If sitting at the table for a family meal is the aim, the task is broken down into its constituent parts – moving successfully to the table, sitting down with control, positioning arms well, building the postural control for a sustained position etc. The movements are then practised to make them efficient, so that energy can be saved for enjoying a sociable dinner.
'Our aim at Neuro Heroes is to support and inspire people to move more, move effectively and move confidently; to show them they can take proactive and positive steps to maintaining or improving their physical health.
Free taster sessions are available if you’re living with a neurological condition and would like to work towards meeting national exercise guidelines.
Find out more by visiting the Neuro Heroes website.