Community gym helps high-blood pressure patient reduce health risks

Phil Johnson, 62, who has become much healthier. Picture submitted by North Norfolk CCG

Phil Johnson, 62, who has become much healthier. Picture submitted by North Norfolk CCG - Credit: Archant

'If there is the slightest problem with their car, people get it fixed instantly.

'Why don't we do the same with our bodies?'

Those are the words of Phil Johnson, a 62-year-old former radio and TV presenter who is today praised by health chiefs for the way he has successfully warded off the risk of developing long-term conditions such as diabetes.

Last year, Mr Johnson was told he needed to start taking pills to control his high blood pressure, but since then he has determinedly embarked on a community health scheme which has made him fitter than ever before.

He now attends a community gym three times per week and completes hour-long aerobic and strength sessions, resulting in weight-loss, more energy and a much healthier lifestyle overall.

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It is a far cry from when Mr Johnson smoked 20 cigarettes while presenting his breakfast show on BBC Radio Norfolk 30 years ago.

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His story is one which health chiefs are keen to highlight to show the benefits of taking responsibility for one's own health, which also helps the NHS during record levels of demand.

So what made Mr Johnson change his lifestyle?

'You get to your 60s and you notice people around you getting ill and diagnosed with conditions,' he said.

'Some friends got diabetes, another friend died, and so I started to think, 'You only get one body in life'.'

His decision to become more healthy was made when his GP told him he needed pills to cope with his high blood pressure.

'I knew that if you start taking those pills you will never come off them,' Mr Johnson said.

'Instead I thought I would take charge of my body, because I realised no one else will do it.

'If we hear or feel something strange on our car, we get it checked out but it doesn't seem like we do the same with our own bodies. I wouldn't put bad fuel in my car yet my diet previously was very poor.'

He decided to join a community gym at Neatishead, which is one of six gyms of its kind that are part of the North Norfolk Activity Referral Scheme.

The gym runs sessions three times per week led by a qualified fitness instructor and members can get personalised exercise programmes.

More recently, GPs have started to refer patients to the gyms to help them battle conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and bone and joint problems.

Mr Johnson, who is now semi-retired but writes children's books, said community gyms were 'brilliant'.

'A lot of older people are put off going to commercial gym because they don't want to be surrounded by honed hunks, but community gyms attract people who are there for their health.

'My body hurt at first but now I feel like an aeroplane – I have taken off and now I'm cruising.'

Dr Anoop Dhesi, chairman of North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: 'Phil is a prime example of how the public can take health into their own hands.'

How doctors use community more to help patients

With growing numbers of people with diabetes and obesity in today's society, health chiefs have to find new ways of improving public health.

The North Norfolk Activity Referral Scheme, run in partnership with Broadland District Council's Broadly Active Scheme, is one such idea.

Similiar schemes are in place throughout the region.

Since the project in North Norfolk started, more than 170 members have used the gym at Neatishead alone.

Community gyms are also in place in Stalham and Hickling. Patients referred by their GP are offered discounted prices.

There are also three sports centres – in Fakenham, Sheringham, and North Walsham – that have partnerships with GP practices.

Dr Anoop Dhesi, of North Norfolk CCG, said: 'Fitness is just one of the ways you can help ensure you are better equipped to fight illnesses, and the positive mental effects of activity and healthy eating are not to be ignored either.'

Have you got a health story? Email

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