Improving access to exercise for people with neurological conditions

  • Clear unit

    Professor Helen Dawes

    There is overwhelming evidence for the beneficial effects of exercise, and increasing activity levels is now an important part of government health policy today.

    However many people with neurological conditions experience isolation from this and face barriers to exercising in the local community.

    Pioneering research by Professor Helen Dawes and the Movement Science Group (MSG) at Oxford Brookes has led to significant improvements in exercise for people with neurological conditions, improving their quality of life.

    The research by the MSG, based at the Centre for Rehabilitation at Oxford Brookes, took the form of experimental studies and clinical trials.  It looked into suitable exercises and their benefits, systems for safe community delivery, and identified both the barriers and enablers to exercise.

    Through their research, the MSG group, found that a lack of training of fitness professionals, a lack of knowledge on suitable exercises and a lack of appropriate facilities were all affecting the ability of people with long-term neurological conditions to participate in safe, physical exercise.

    Exercise content and suitability was a key theme of the research.  Specifically, Professor Dawes investigated treadmill walking exercise for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  In the past concerns over fatigue and worsening the symptoms of MS, meant exercise was discouraged.  However Professor Dawes found that aerobic treadmill training is possible for those with MS and well tolerated. She also found that improving walking speed and endurance did not increase their fatigue.

    Raising greater awareness

    Through the groups’ research greater awareness was raised amongst healthcare and fitness professionals, and this led to specific measures being put in place to encourage exercise and make it easier.

    The Clinical Exercise And Rehabilitation Unit (CLEAR) was created at Oxford Brookes in 2005 to facilitate exercise for people who require a higher level of supervision due to their medical condition. Since it began, patients referred to the unit have reported improved health and attribute it directly to the exercises they have undertaken under CLEAR supervision.

    Supported by the community physiotherapy service and sports partnership, satellite CLEARs were set up in the Thames Valley to support both adults and children with neurological conditions.

    This has impacted on the practice of healthcare providers who refer their patients to the units from Oxfordshire and as far as Gloucester and Cheltenham.

    The research also led to the establishment of the CLEAR Trust a registered charity that aims to increase exercise participation for people with long-term neurological conditions across the UK.

    Better training for fitness professionals

    The MSG’s research was the first to provide evidence of a need for specific training of fitness professionals for people with long-term neurological conditions.

    To make a difference at a national level two key things were required; a National Occupational Standard (NOS) and an accredited training course.

    Professor Dawes wrote a NOS and this was endorsed by Skills Active. The MSG’s research was also presented to the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) who were impressed with the group’s findings and worked with them to develop the ‘Exercise Prescription for Long-Term Neurological Conditions' course.  This is the only level 4 accredited course in the UK for healthcare and fitness professionals who deliver exercise to people with a range of long-term neurological conditions.

    It is important that people with these conditions are enabled to manage their exercise how they wish. The work of Professor’s Dawes and the MSG has led to great change, and will continue to help empower people with a neurological condition to achieve a physically active lifestyle.

    Find out more

    Read more about the full Impact Case Study on RADAR.

    Further information on the MSG can be found on their website

    More information about Professor Helen Dawes can be found on her profile page.