Sport BOP's health team had to make speedy changes in order to keep things rolling for their clients throughout lockdown, and the success stories kept momentum.

Health team leader Larissa Cuff says the team works across two programmes in Rotorua, supporting people with lifestyle changes around physical activity and nutrition.

These are Green Prescription (adults 18+) and Maternal Physical Activity.

Green Prescription is a six-month healthy lifestyle programme for adults. It is designed to support, inform, empower and provide community connections to nurture a healthy lifestyle.

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It focuses on supporting behavioural change by establishing sustainable physical activity and nutritional habits.

The maternal programme supports pre and postnatal mums with physical activity through Maternal Green Prescription, and provides resource and access to physical activity options, as well as supporting the establishment of Aqua Mums classes at local aquatic centres across the Bay of Plenty.

Clients join both programmes through a GP referral.

Larissa says the speed of the lockdown proved to the biggest challenge, as they had to make sure they had systems in place to continue to support their clients while working from home.

"The team adapted extremely well to this. There are challenges of providing support through a phone conversation, but this was overcome with the experience of our team.

"We found our clients responded well to the phone call follow-up, and it was very much appreciated.

"We also recognised our clients really missed the connection of people they received through the physical activity groups we run or connect with - going for a walk alone didn't quite cut it. So creating an online hub with a Facebook group was something we did to remedy this.

"This virtual space was a great place to share daily and weekly activity and wellbeing challenges for the members of the group."

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She says the move to alert level 2 meant they were able to head back into the office, and are slowly looking at reintroducing some face-to-face interaction with clients in line with government Covid-19 guidelines.

"We will still offer phone-based support, but value the impact of a face-to-face conversation.

"We are hoping with additional government guidelines that we can re-introduce small physical activity groups safely to support those keen to come back into group exercise.

"After the success of online resources and groups we will keep these going as an additional support resource for clients."

Green Prescription adviser Rotorua, Verina Wihongi, says all of their programmes involve regular face-to-face contact with clients, as well as facilitating and supporting group physical activity options.

"These had to stop with Covid-19, which meant we needed to act quickly to continue to provide support and connection for our clients while working from home.

"We adapted by continuing to offer our support services through phone-based support and transferring our knowledge and resources online to our website.

"I regularly spoke with my Rotorua Green Prescription clients over the phone, and most had a weekly follow-up phone call or text."

She says their clients were encouraged to adapt to lockdown life and look at ways they could continue to increase their physical activity.

"We have a range of home-based exercises that were suitable and safe for those starting out with exercise that we coached our clients to do.

"We also established a Facebook group which provided a virtual space for connection and support for our clients that they may usually get in a physical activity group, such as a walking group or gym class.

"The Facebook group enabled us to share information and ideas about physical activity, nutrition and wellbeing."

If anyone would like to join Green Prescription they can talk to their GP or practice nurse about a referral, visit our website for further information (www.sportbop.co.nz/greenprescription) or contact larissac@sportbop.co.nz

Julia Hewitt has taken part in the programme. Photo / Supplied
Julia Hewitt has taken part in the programme. Photo / Supplied

Julia Hewitt's story

Rotorua's Julia Hewitt is 45-year-old woman who heard of the Green Prescription programme through her friend Maxine and the positive impacts it was having on other people's lives.

"I am asthmatic, pre-diabetic, and was really needing to lose weight. I have a brain injury and managing the restrictions of neuro fatigue makes exercising very difficult. I had little support getting to places to exercise.

"Prior to joining the Green Prescription programme, my only exercise was when my husband and I walked our dogs and that was only on the days I was physically able to go."

Before her accident Julia used to do triathlons, and after learning more about the programme she went to her GP and asked for a referral.

Julia then met with Rotorua Green Prescription adviser Verina Wihongi and together they worked on setting some goals.

"My goals were to reverse the pre-diabetes diagnosis, manage my mental health wellness, increase my exercise and lose weight," says Julia.

"Since I have been on the programme I have completed two women's triathlons (the walking section), and have my sights set of future triathlon events."

But during Covid-19 lockdown, all of Julia's plans for future events were cancelled.

"In alert level 3, I started walking in the mornings, managing short distances which was tough."

Julia also completed some virtual events.

"Meeting Verina and being part of the Green Prescription programme has been a real game changer for me. I would not have done any of this without her help.

"Before lockdown I went on a supermarket tour with Verina which showed me what foods to look for and to make better food choices.

"I received regular motivational texts, follow-up phone calls from her and have joined the Green Prescription Facebook group.

"I believe my success has been from the continued support I received from Verina. She has also shown me what organisations are out there for me and I have since joined Swim-Able and the Rotorua chapter of Achilles."