Every woman deserves to thrive: How exercise is being used to beat trauma

When we think of mental health recovery, we tend to think of sitting across from a counsellor under the stark lights of a clinical setting.

Though what if movement is just as powerful as talking therapies?

Anyone who has slipped on a pair of Nikes or Adidas will likely already know this, how feel-good hormones can skyrocket after a sweaty session and boost your wellbeing.

Now, consider what might happen if you didn’t have access to those trainers, or any suitable clothing, to help you exorcise your demons through exercise.

[Credit: theMOVEMENT]

This is exactly what one woman is tackling with her new venture, to help disadvantaged women get active, something she believes is a fundamental human right.

“Success for us is not just about the delivery of these sessions, but the impact they can have on all areas of an individual’s life.”

Fiona Roberts, theMOVEMENT founder

Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Fiona Roberts told us about theMOVEMENT and how she hopes it can tackle inequality to restore every woman’s right to exercise.

Fiona said: “Exercise is a big part of my life, though I realised I took a lot of what it gives me for granted, such as money for clothing, the confidence to step into a male-dominated gym, access to fitness instructors, and the time to reach, and even supersede, personal goals.

“However, a few years ago, I was faced within an uncomfortable truth, that while there is support to overcome these barriers, there are those who face a much tougher hurdle, for example, women who have experienced trauma and are living with multiple disadvantages, it is extremely challenging to access activities that could do the most to help them heal.”

[Credit: theMOVEMENT]

It was this very reason that Fiona kickstarted her charity to help women who have suffered trauma to access the mental and physical health benefits of exercise.

The organisation now prides itself in providing opportunities for women across London experiencing multiple disadvantages and significant exposure to trauma.

Fiona continued: “We recruit and train fitness professionals to incorporate a trauma informed approach within their practice. We then connect graduates with relevant charities in their local area, including refuges and drop-ins, who volunteer weekly to deliver sessions.

“As many of our women have experienced homelessness, one barrier to exercise can be suitable clothing and footwear. In response, we have started to develop various means by which we can provide them with these items for sessions as needed.”

The project not only aims to boost self-esteem but also play an important part in recovery, with exercise proven to decrease trauma symptoms such as depression, anxiety and poor sleep.

[Credit: the MOVEMENT]

Fiona’s work is supported by a study from Women in Sport that shows women of low socio-economic status are the least likely group to be sufficiently physically active and, therefore, benefit from the advantages of exercise, specifically the positive impact on mental health.

She explained: “This study, and other linked barriers – including vulnerable living situations, lack of finances, and low confidence – combine to create a major inequality in society where women who have experienced persistent exposure to trauma are significantly less likely to access one of the most powerful strategies available to them: exercise.

“The pandemic has further exacerbated these issues. Now more than ever, the barriers to exercise for women with multiple disadvantages need to be removed.”

Despite having only been a registered charity for one year, theMOVEMENT continues to evolve and provide exercise opportunities to women through nine charity partners.

Qualified personal trainer and spin instructor Fiona said she feels immensely proud that the women attending the sessions are already growing in confidence, with one of the attendees citing the classes as “the most positive thing I’ve done in years”.

Fiona concluded: “Success for us is not just about the delivery of these sessions, but the impact they can have on all areas of an individual’s life.

“By giving opportunities for the women we work with to increase their health, wellbeing and sense of purpose, it will impact wider areas of their lives, such as employability and social connection.

“This, in turn, benefits the wider community, as individuals are empowered and equipped to engage with and contribute to their communities.”

To help support the project, click here to donate: theMOVEMENT.

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