Meet our featured member, Emily Johnstone, who has suffered a stroke which left her in a wheelchair – here she tells us how Viavi:be is part of her programme of exercise after a stroke and what benefits the Viavi:be health gym approach offers her:

Emily’s story – exercise after a stroke

We were driving home after my daughter’s 2nd birthday when I had a stroke. There are lots of different kinds of strokes – mine was a brain haemorrhage. I was 35 at the time – and that was 6 years ago.

It left me with weakness down the right side, ataxia down my left side which makes it difficult for me to coordinate my movements, and speech difficulties. I was getting over that quite well, when I developed a condition caused by the original stroke, which made my speech and mobility much worse, and left me needing a wheelchair.

Viavi:be – a health gym for stroke sufferers

I joined Viavi:be in June 2019. I’d been a member of a gym before – one that had adapted equipment – so a gym environment was not new to me.

One of the best things about Viavi:be is that the equipment does not need setting up or adjusting – it remembers your settings. My personal trainer, Mark, said I would benefit from the carefully controlled and supported strength training that the Viavi:be machines provide. I go when it’s quieter during the day and I have support from my Dad or husband to get on and off the machines

Mark, my health coach, noticed I was weaker and less coordinated after I had lifted a weight and was returning it to rest, so he decided I needed ‘negative training’ – this means the machines increase the load on the return phase of the movement, and it’s something that regular gym equipment doesn’t offer. I find the programme hard work but it is really helping me improve my strength and coordination.

Despite my worry about slowing other members down, I have only had words of encouragement and motivation from everyone.

Exercise after a stroke – the benefits

My support worker who sees me every week says she has noticed a positive difference in my walking and my transfers which we believe has come from my increased strength. It’s also made it easier to do things in day to day life – the kind of things I used to take for granted. Things like putting on my boots, pushing myself up in bed and in chairs. Although I have a treadmill and other equipment at home, Viavi:be offers me far superior equipment and a good reason to get out and about, which is great for my mind and my body. The holistic approach they take at Viavi:be anchored by their experts helps me understand my body better – I’ve talked to the coaches about nutrition as well as attended talks on sleeping better and energy balance – the bespoke and tailored approach is obviously of great benefit to someone with specific needs like mine.

I am about to start a core class to help me strengthen my core muscles, which should help me with my lack of coordination in my torso, as well as my ataxia. Since being in a wheelchair I’ve seen my weight gradually increase. Going to the gym is helping to combat this – and as I get stronger and fitter I hope it will help me reverse the upward trend on the scales!

I love the supportive, motivating and calm environment – it allows me to be independent. I don’t need anyone to alter the machines for me, and because it allows small incremental increases in my training weights, it’s easier to achieve goals. The staff are encouraging and the machines adapt to my requirements. The environment is so calm because it’s never overcrowded, and everyone moves from machine to machine at the same time so you know exactly where you need to be. The members are very diverse and all are interested in general health – which means there isn’t a competitive body building culture like you find in some gyms.

My journey has been really easy. I had a two week free trial at the Viavi:be health gym, and everyone has been so supporting since I joined. Staff are accessible but not intrusive. I would definitely recommend the gym to anyone overcoming a complex health condition, particularly where it affects their strength and mobility like a stroke does. Their holistic approach is so important to anyone with complex needs.