Jill Meadows, 55, is reaping the benefits of improving her self care.

Having gained of weight following two leg injuries and suffering anxiety after losing loved ones, Jill, of Washington Village, was struggling both physical and mentally.

“I lost both parents and father-in-law in a short period of time. I was then made voluntarily redundant from my job,” said Jill.

“My physical and mental health suffered enormously. I had high blood pressure, bouts of depression and anxiety requiring medication, low self esteem and a lack of confidence.”

Jill sought the support of her GP, who, realising her challenges were something she could tackle herself referred her to the Move to Improve (MTI) programme, a prescribed exercise initiative to improve long term conditions and prevent deterioration, but cancelled her initial assessment due to embarrassment.

That changed following an annual walking holiday in Austria. “I was stopping for a rest all the time and didn’t want to have my photo taken. Looking back at the photos, I looked so miserable.

“When I got home I contacted the MTI team, and it was a decision that changed my life.”

A regular exerciser in the past, at the age of 55 and with a debilitating knee injury, Jill thought she’d be unable able to regain her fitness.

She said: “I imagined a gym full of young, slim, fit people and I would stand out like a sore thumb. I did not want to be the “old fat one” puffing and panting at the back of a class either.

“My worries were dispelled when my coach John-Lee pointed out who was actually using the gym. Some people accessing gyms now are older, bigger and less physically able than me.

“Since that first class I haven’t looked back and wish I had started sooner. The gym’s not usually for me, but I attend the MTI class every week, do Zumba twice a week and play badminton. I have joined a Nordic Walk group, where I actually lead walking groups, hoping to inspire others and encourage them to lead a less sedentary lifestyle.”

Jill has maintained her new found passion for exercise, even though the 12-week programme has come to an end.

“On our visit to Austria this June, I was up that mountain with my Nordic Walking poles striding out with the best of them,” she said. “I am even smiling on the photographs!

“Not only has my physical health improved greatly but also my mental wellbeing. I am much more confident in trying new things and my self esteem has improved too. I have dropped two dress sizes and I feel that the old Jill, who was lost for a long time, is back.”

Paul Grey, Move to Improve consultant at Sunderland City Council, has been impressed with Jill’s progress in just over a year on the programme.

He said: “The change in Jill has been incredible and she’s reaping the rewards of her own efforts.

“We deliver this course for people of varying ages with a host of different conditions, and by focusing on physical improvement, or the biological element, we see real improvement in the psychological and social wellbeing of the participants.

“It is an initial 12-week programme, but, like Jill, so many people choose to stay on afterwards and continue to improve their health via Move to Improve.”