Group exercise instructors: healthcare’s secret weapon?

If there were thousands of workers at your disposable to educate communities on the benefits of physical activity, would you want to work with them? Could they help make your healthcare job a lot easier and relieve tight budgets on the NHS? You may be surprised to learn that this workforce already exists. 

There are thousands of group exercise instructors across the country already contributing to a healthier nation, and they want to connect with you.

What is group exercise?

Group exercise is “An instructor-led exercise session for two or more people, often involving music and equipment.” You’ll likely know many styles already, such as Zumba, Pilates, and indoor group cycling. 

Why is group exercise special?

Group exercise is producing big results:

And there’s also something for everyone too, with over 300 recognised styles. From absolute beginners attending ‘This Girl Can’ classes to older adults taking ‘Move it or Lose it’ sessions, the accessibility of group exercise reaches across a vast range of demographics.

The benefits of group exercise cannot be underestimated either. A 2017 study by the American Osteopathic Association surmised “Group exercise improves quality of life, reduces stress far more than individual work-outs” with participants experiencing a 26.2% decrease in perceived levels of stress.

What does the workforce offer?

In short, huge amounts of talent, expertise, and passion for getting people active. And better still, they want to work with local GP surgeries, NHS trusts and the wider health sector to assist in primary care and preventative action.

A recent research piece from EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise, found that the 56% of instructors are interested in working in social prescribing and 65% of instructors are interested in working with GP referral schemes.

Many instructors are already delivering falls prevention, cardiac rehab, and stroke rehabilitation programmes with the appropriate qualifications. In regular classes, instructors are also activating older adults, people with long-term health conditions, and those with diabetes into exercise.

So why aren’t these instructors an integral part of primary care?

The challenges facing the workforce

Feedback from group exercise instructors varies but common themes include:

  • Hard to reach the right person at the surgery
  • System access can be confusing
  • Health systems are not sure of what instructors offer

With social prescribing pathways also varying by region, it can feel like health and physical activity organisations are speaking different languages. In reality, both systems are on the same page – make communities healthier. But the thousands strong workforce of instructors is being underutilised.

How can group exercise and health systems connect?

There are a variety of ways that health systems can find instructors and understand their offerings:

Your secret weapons are ready to go! They just need to hear from you. 

About the writer

Sue Wilkie is the Head of Instructor Support at EMD UK.