Research reveals that exercising with a friend or loved one gets better results, motivating you to work twice as hard. Scientists at the University of New England also found that group workouts can lower stress by 26% and improve our overall wellbeing. Here, we chat to three Vitality members to find out how working out together has transformed their health.
Words: Julia Shaw. Photography: Jude Edginton.
“I run with my friends for my Dad”
Richie Whitaker, 33, is a restaurant manager from Bristol. When he found out his dad had cancer, he decided to sign up for a half marathon with his two mates, Charlie and Iain, to help raise money for Cancer Research UK. They now run instead of hitting the pub, and have planned to do more half marathons together in the future.
“I met my best buddies at work – Charlie is a head chef and Iain is an area manager. They were the guys who were calling to make sure I was OK and checking up on me throughout my dad’s illness, providing such amazing support. My whole family and my girlfriend Hayley were really supportive too.
When my dad Graham was first diagnosed with lung cancer, I decided to sign up for the Bournemouth Half Marathon to make him proud. I hadn’t done loads of exercise before training for the marathon. I was sporty at school, but as I moved away and started working, it dropped out of my life. When Dad became ill, I started training on my own. I thought I could just pick it back up easily, but it was hard.”
“When Charlie and Iain came on board, everything changed. They really kept me motivated. Sometimes it’s easy to decide to miss training if you’re on your own, but we’ve all pushed each other, and it makes it so much more fun having a goal to train for together.
We live in different areas of the South West so we set up a messaging group to keep in touch. We posted our daily exercise routines, whether we were running, swimming or rowing. As the marathon got closer, we also put up music compilations to keep us pumped and pictures of the best food to eat with words of encouragement for each other.
Sadly, we lost Dad in August last year. He was 71. It was a real shock for us all as we thought we’d have another two years with him. He didn’t live long enough to see me do the marathon in October 2018, but he knew I was training for it, and that meant a lot to me.
The marathon was an amazing experience and brought us closer together. Between us we raised over £1,000. My mum, who is an amazing person, was immensely proud of what we’d done too.”
Doing it for Dad
“I ran with my dad’s name on my back. Although Charlie, Iain and I ran at our own speeds, we knew we’d meet up and share the achievement at the finish line. We’ve already booked to do the Coventry Half Marathon and the next Bournemouth Marathon too.
My job is demanding, but we have some great healthy living schemes at work, including Vitality insurance. I love the benefits that come with it – I treated myself to a M430 Polar watch for my training with my Vitality discount.
I feel so good for changing my lifestyle. I’m so much fitter. I don’t drink as much as I did before and I cook much more healthy food at home. I’ve really got the running bug, but I also swim once a week and have taken up cycling, so the Evans discount has come in handy.”
Make like Richie
Sign up to parkrun. These free weekly 5k runs are held in parks around the UK. They’re open to all abilities and are a great way to meet like-minded people. As a Vitality member, you can earn Vitality points every time you run or volunteer.
Run to help others. Sign up to Good Gym and you’ll join a community of runners who stop en route to lend a hand to local people in need.
“My son inspired me to lose weight and get fit”
Promila Thomas, 64, is a retired anaesthetist from Birmingham. She has her son, Saurabh, to thank for getting her fit – they’ve both lost more than 2 stone each and now enjoy working out at the gym together.
“We’ve been through a lot of family upheaval recently. I went through a difficult divorce four years ago with Saurabh’s dad, and it left us numb. Saurabh is my only child and he has muscular dystrophy, so the impact of the divorce on top of his own challenges wasn’t easy on him. We were both feeling depressed.
Saurabh lives independently with carers, but he spends about half the year with me at home – he’s with me every weekend. I’d been encouraging Saurabh to try to do a bit of exercise as he had put on weight. It’s very difficult for someone confined to a wheelchair a lot of the time to keep their weight in check. I knew that if he could only get a bit lighter and out of his wheelchair more it would help him feel better about himself.”
The key motivator
“Then, two years ago, Saurabh surprised me by telling me he had joined a local Nuffield Health gym and had an amazing trainer. I was so proud when I saw that he had started to lose weight. He really pushed himself. That gave me the boost I needed to start thinking about my own wellbeing. We had some counselling and both started thinking about ourselves more. Over the years I’ve done a lot of comfort eating too and became overweight. I was 5ft and obese, so I decided to join the same gym.
I’m very thankful that Saurabh spurred me on. He helped kick-start my fitness and we have a laugh together. We keep track of our gym activities and talk about our health goals. Saurabh keeps track of his workouts on his Apple Watch.
I do a lot of core training and lift weights – but I know that, left to myself, I wouldn’t have done this.”
“It’s worked wonders, not only to make us fitter, but to restore our self-esteem. Working out is another way of counselling; when the body is fit, the mind is fit too. We also eat a lot healthier now.
We’re both getting our lives back on track. Saurabh plays jazz piano; he’s quite a showman. I love drama and I do Bollywood dancing. I’ve also finished a screenwriting course and am writing poetry. We are both now 2 stone lighter and feeling great. I’m so grateful to my son for introducing me to the gym – it’s been a lifeline for both of us.”
Make like Promila
Try taster sessions. Check out the NHS for lots of fun,free ways to get fit. You’ll find local walks and taster classes at local gyms to try.
Feel the rhythm. Join a local zumba or dance class – your inhibitions will go once you let your hair down and start moving together.
“My dogs have totally changed my life”
Liz Stacey, 28, is a logistics coordinator from Somerset. Since moving to the countryside, she’s found lively exercise buddies in her two dogs – Hollie, a one-year-old Old English Sheepdog and Beebee, a three-year-old Labrador. Her marine husband Matt, 30, puts her through her paces, too.
“I was very active when I was younger – I used to play netball, cycle with my mates and swim as part of a club. But when I went to university, I stopped doing much. I’ve been with Matt for 10 years now and he’s encouraged me to get back into fitness again. Getting the dogs was even more of a game changer.
As a dog owner, you feel a responsibility to take them on long, regular walks – you can’t not when they give you a look. I normally walk them twice a day and they’re my motivational stars – even on days when I feel tired and stressed, I still have to walk them. It always gives me a lift.”
Change of scene
“We’ve recently moved to Somerset and now have the countryside right on our doorstep – the dogs absolutely love trekking across the fields near our house.
Matt is a great motivator too. He pushes me to do more, which is what I need. As a marine he has to be super fit, so it’s like having my own personal trainer on tap. We sometimes work out in the garden with boxing gloves and skipping ropes. He even had me working out at the gym every day when we were on holiday in Mexico – I’d never have done that if he hadn’t been there. At weekends, we take longer walks with the dogs – it’s a great way for us both to keep fit and spend some quality time together.”
The added incentive
“We have a joint Vitality account and compare points. It becomes a bit of a competition! We like the motivation you get to stay fit and healthy. We have an Apple Watch and if you don’t get your maximum points you have to pay for it, so it encourages us to work out more. I get most of my Vitality points through walking the dogs. We’re also excited about the new Amazon Prime reward, which will encourage us further to reach our maximum points each week.
Without the encouragement of Matt and the dogs, I’d be a lot less active. Hollie is particularly bouncy as she’s still a baby, so if I don’t walk her, we pay for it. She plays up and chews things if she doesn’t get enough exercise.
I have an office job so it’s a nice thing to do after a day at work. Getting out with them every day is a great stress-buster, good for my physical and mental wellbeing.”
Make like Liz
Get a walk partner. Natural England’s Walk Buddy Scheme helps people become more active by teaming them up with a walking pal.
Borrow a dog. The benefits of dog walking are numerous but if you don’t own one, you can always borrow one.
Find more inspirational examples of how people have transformed their lives in Member Stories.