Chair exercises help with chronic health conditions

A sore back can seem like a big hurdle to overcome when a person wants to exercise.

Bad knees can affect the ability to bend and perform squats. People who have difficulty walking may ponder how to increase their activity levels without injuring themselves.

Tara McNeil, a personal trainer and fitness instructor, says people often don’t know where to start to increase their physical activity. It can sometimes be intimidating to go into regular classes and exercise alongside people who may not suffer from chronic health conditions, she said.

This fall, McNeil is instructing a parks, recreation and culture course – Learning to Exercise Again – for people with chronic health conditions who want to increase their activity levels, but need guidance to ensure they don’t injure themselves.

McNeil said the key to her classes is making sure people have fun.

“If you go to a class and it’s drudgery, you are never going to go back,” she said.

The dynamics of a class are important and people also need to feel safe and comfortable while exercising, McNeil said, adding that she also likes to keep people motivated and help build their self-esteem

The course is offered in two levels.

Level one requires a doctor’s note so McNeil knows how to tailor exercises to participants’ abilities. It consists of exercises where participants either sit in a chair or stand beside it. Level two involves similar exercises building on progress from level one.

“You can get an amazing core workout in a chair,” said McNeil, who previously taught a similar course as part of Vancouver Island Health Authority’s integrated health network plan.

The class will also help people increase their strength, balance and flexibility. McNeil tailors exercises to people’s fitness levels and there are several variations of the routines for people to choose from depending on their health condition.

McNeil teaches a total of 12 exercise classes for parks, recreation and culture this fall, including a number of full-figured fitness classes.

McNeil knows what it’s like to struggle with losing weight. She’s lost more than 100 pounds and kept it off. McNeil said an important thing to remember is to be as fit as you can be for the shape a person is in. She said everyone has a different internal and external shape that can be improved with exercise.

When not teaching for the city, she’s busy as a personal trainer and fitness instructor at her own business, The Shape You’re In. She combines a degree in psychology and aerobic and personal trainer certification from the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association to help people reach their fitness goals.

People with questions about which class would be the best fit for them can e-mail McNeil at For more information on the fall fitness classes please call parks, recreation and culture at 250-756-5200 or go to


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