Earlier this year, Olympic medallist Sharron Davies MBE launched a scheme through her website to gift workout subscriptions to people living in difficult circumstances. She explains why she believes exercise is important for mental health as well as for fitness and weight loss.     

“I wanted to help by creating a programme that I thought everyone could do at home - with no equipment required, very, very cheaply,” she says.

Whilst paying subscribers can sign up to a three-month package for “less than a weekly cup of coffee out with friends”, a gift option for a bit more coffee money means they can also donate a subscription. Or, if they take out a year’s subscription, Davies will add a gift subscription to the pot.

“I thought, well, then there's a lot of people out there that might not even be able to afford the [cost of] one cup of coffee a week. So can I help them or can I get other people to help them?”  

The workouts, she says don’t need a lot of space and have been kept “super simple”. Donated subscriptions will go to “people in transition…maybe leaving a battered home situation, in shelter, in women's aid, women's refuge”.   

She hopes, she says, that it will become a tool that people “can use forever to help them to feel better”.  

The aim is “to be able to say to them here's a workout you can do - even if it's just in a room for 15 minutes a day, four times a week - which will help you mentally feel better about yourself…at a time when you probably are really lacking in confidence.”   

She is “very, very proud” of the initiative, she says, and hopes big corporates will also get on board to donate to the scheme.  

But it isn’t just about fitness, she says. It’s also about mental health. Despite having been an athlete since she was a child (“I don't really remember having anything else in my life other than sport and physical activity”) and cutting a glamorous figure as an adult, she knows what it is like to not always feel good about herself. 

“I had little phases where I've fallen off the wagon, like so many people,” she says. “When I first retired, I rebelled and carried on with this crazy appetite.” She says she understands those phases when “you lose sight of yourself”, and why exercise can help. In addition to a healthier body and mind, she says, exercise also brings “confidence and resilience”.   

“If I [do not] have exercise in my life, it will be the mental side which will probably struggle - more than the physical side.   

“I just think the advantages that you get from the endorphin release into your system is so underrated in how that makes us feel about ourselves.”   

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