Derry City & Strabane - Steps to Health group sweep away the January blues with active challenge




  • Text Colour:
  • C
  • C
  • C
  • C
  • Text Size: A A A

Steps to Health group sweep away the January blues with active challenge

08 February 2023

Members of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Steps to Health programme have shrugged off the January blues by completing an active challenge that has left them reaping the health and wellbeing benefits of exercise. Under the watchful eye of Council’s GP Referral Coach Colleen Brown, the group committed to doing 30 minutes of physical activity every day for the month of January - and are now hungry for the next challenge in their fitness journey. Their challenge has also helped raise funds for Altnagelvin Hospital’s Cancer Centre with all the participants donating their registration fees to the facility. “The Steps to Health programme is an eight week course where candidates are guided through a tailored training regime to improve their overall wellbeing and fitness,” explained Colleen. “It aims to build up a base level of fitness and give candidates the advice and knowledge to continue their fitness journey by themselves. “I sent the challenge out to the participants in December and as a group they have shown great determination and spirit to push each other on and complete the challenge.”

Margaret Brown, a 65 year-old former Staff Nurse in the Altnagelvin and Waterside Hospitals, who also happens to be Colleen’s mother, has used exercise to help manage her Rheumatoid Arthritus condition.

She has always enjoyed an active lifestyle and has completed three London Marathons, the Great North Run and a number of local events.

“After Christmas I decided that I wanted to stay active, January is always a long month so I thought it was a good way to lift my mood,” she said.

“The group dynamic is a great motivator, we were in regular contact and had a Facebook group where we posted photos after completing each day.

“I loved the variety of the activities, I got the flu during the challenge but was able to keep moving with light stretches and Tai Chi classes that I found online.

“Staying active has really helped with the pain of my Arthritis and you always feel better after a session.

“There’s a great quote that ‘Yard by yard, life is hard but inch by inch life’s sinch’ and if you take your fitness one step at a time you can reach your goals.”

52 year-old Youth Social Worker Declan Thompson is doing the challenge for a second year and has set himself higher targets for the year ahead.

“Last year the challenge had a really positive impact on my mental health, which had suffered during lockdown,” he recalled.

“I didn’t consistently keep it going when it ended so this year I really want to maintain a high level of activity.

“For me, activity creates happiness and keeps you feeling young and energetic, I believe you don’t stop moving as you get older - you get older as you stop moving.

“I’ve had difficulties with a knee injury recently that would normally have been an excuse to stop but I’ve worked closely with Colleen to do activities such as swimming where there isn’t pressure on it.

“I’m very goal motivated and I have a cruise booked in May that I want to be in the best possible shape for and enjoy, I’ve lost a stone already and I want to keep going with that now.”

Emma Bond, a 30 year-old carer and substitute teacher in the city, was also completing her second Active January.

She too is determined to maintain the momentum now.

“It’s a great feeling of achievement to reach the end of the challenge and I want to hold myself to account now and set more ambitious goals,” she said.

“This is my second year doing it but I want to push on this time around and set goals over the next few months and maybe complete a 5k in the Spring.

“I’ve struggled with my mental health over the years and exercise has been hugely beneficial to my mood, I see it as a way of looking after myself.

“My advice to anyone who wants to get more active is to start small, you won’t always feels like doing it but if you show up you will feel better afterwards.”

The group will visit the Cancer Ward at Altnagelvin later this month to present a cheque of their funds raised to the hospital. 

For further details on the services and programmes available at Derry City and Strabane District Council visit