“The earlier you can start exercising from diagnosis, the better”


Author: Sophie ParrottPublished: 2 February 2023

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A close-up portrait of Stephanie Wallis

We hear from Stephanie Wallis about launching her UK-based organisation, Stepping Stones Health and Well-being, teaching exercise classes to people with Parkinson’s and encouraging those in the community to get moving

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Basingstoke in Hampshire, England. My family includes two children and one dog, so I keep very busy while running my own business: Stepping Stones Health & Well-being. I teach exercise classes in the Basingstoke area and have worked in the fitness industry for over 21 years.

My main passion is rehabilitation exercise. After gaining my Level 3 diploma in exercise referral (which qualifies graduates to design, plan and deliver exercise programmes), I was asked if I would like to teach cardiac rehabilitation. This sounded so interesting that I went on to receive my Phase 4 cardiac rehab qualification. While doing the referral scheme at a local sports centre, I met participants living with cancer and thought it would be beneficial to gain my Level 4 cancer rehabilitation qualification.

In 2017, a local Parkinson’s support group reached out to see if we could provide a class specifically for people with Parkinson’s. I went and studied a few courses to gain knowledge on exercise and the condition. When I started to see the benefits people were experiencing through exercise, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I recently completed my Level 4 exercise qualification for long-term neurological conditions.

What sparked your passion for providing rehabilitation care to clients through exercise?

I get real enjoyment out of helping people achieve something. The more I worked with people with different medical conditions, the more I saw how exercise could benefit them physically or mentally and improve their quality of life. Seeing these results pushed me to try to help more people.

Stephanie teaching an exercise class

Stephanie is passionate about the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s.

Can you tell us about your organisation, Stepping Stones Health and Well-being, and what it aims to achieve?

I started the business in 2020 in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. I wanted to be able to provide exercise classes for people living with medical conditions that made it difficult to exercise in a mainstream class. I had seen first-hand the benefits that exercise can have, especially for people with Parkinson’s.

I wanted to provide classes that people could feel comfortable in, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about whether they were able to do an exercise or not. I wanted to create a setting where people could meet others going through similar experiences and offer support to one another. 

Why is exercise important for people with Parkinson’s?

Experts recommend, on average, 2.5 hours of exercise a week, which has been shown to be beneficial for a range of Parkinson’s symptoms. The potential benefits include better balance; improved posture; better sleep; improved strength to help with everyday tasks; reduced anxiety, stress and depression – and more. The earlier you can start exercising from diagnosis, the better.

How do your classes aim to support people with Parkinson’s?

Across both classes, we work on strength – focusing on the legs and posture muscles, dual-movement tasks, cognitive exercises and strength and balance in the hands and fingers. I blend functional exercises, such as sit-to-stands, with more fun exercises, like telling the time with your arms or feet. We practice anything from juggling and throwing foam javelins to boxing and climbing agility ladders. It’s about getting you moving while getting your brain working as well. There is always a chair at each station so that any exercise can be adapted. All I ask is that clients get their doctors’ consent to exercise beforehand.

Those that come to the class say how it has helped them get out of the house, meet other people and improve their confidence. Everyone shares tips and knowledge about what they have found beneficial – it’s as much a support group as an exercise class. The class offers people the opportunity to try to reduce the impact of Parkinson’s on their everyday life – and to feel a part of a local community.

A photo of an exercise class

Stephanie says her class helps people “feel part of a local community.”

What is your advice for people with Parkinson’s looking to incorporate exercise into their routine?

Always seek medical guidance first to make sure you are safe to exercise. Start slowly and only work to your ability. Exercises can be done seated – most of the exercises I do will have a seated option. Keep the exercises simple, and just work on the range of movement first.

Any form of activity can be beneficial. It doesn’t have to be a full-on exercise class. Walking, gardening, housework – these are all ways to get your body moving. Just work at your own level.

Read more:

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The power of the voice: “Think of singing as an exercise”

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