Keeping their resolutions

At the beginning of this year eight volunteers who wanted to improve their fitness levels were given the challenge of trying out a range of activities at the Sportspark at the University of East Anglia. EMMA LEE finds out how they got on.

While many new year's resolutions will have been made with the best of intentions as Big Ben rang in 2011, it's a fair bet that many of them will be long forgotten by now.

That's why, at the start of the year, the Sportspark at the University of East Anglia decided to help eight people to keep their resolution to get active by offering them the chance to try out a range of activities at the flagship leisure centre.

The Sportspark is one of the busiest leisure centres in the country. Celebrating 10 years at the heart of sport in the community, it offers fantastic facilities such as its 50-metre swimming pool, fitness centre and badminton centre.

It's much easier to motivate yourself to get active if you're doing something you enjoy – and with dozens of activities on offer, there's something for everyone.

During the 10-week course the volunteers tried out a range of different sports and activities including swimming, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, yoga, archery, aerobics and climbing.

The volunteers ranged in age from 23 to 66, and had an array of reasons for wanting to get active, such as losing weight for a family wedding, getting back into exercise and taking some 'me' time after having children, and making the most of being retired.

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If you're new to exercise or haven't exercised in a long time, the gym is quite often seen as the scary option. A common misconception is that gyms will be full of 'body beautifuls' looking like they've just stepped off the pages of a catalogue, or burly men pumping weights, which can be off-putting. But the reality is that the gym has something for everybody and the volunteers' first session was at the fitness centre.

For Marlene Loughton, 66, it was the first time she had been to a gym for about a decade.

'I used to belong to a gym. I used to go along and see all these young things going in – and I'm 66 years old. I just felt like an old granny! But I think that I really rose to the challenge. Rob, the instructor, took us round and showed us how the equipment works. I really enjoyed it once I got over the initial self-consciousness.

'I found it extremely motivating, and I came home feeling like I'd achieved something.'

Why did Marlene want to take part in the campaign?

'I retired in October 2009 and at lunchtimes at work I had always gone out for a walk, often a mile or two miles. When you're doing that on a regular basis every day, it doesn't sound a lot, but it really keeps you fit.

'When I retired we went into the first awful winter we had had for years and I was just sitting about so much. And, of course, the same thing then started to happen this winter.

'When I saw this it was motivation, really, to go and try some new things and think there could be something for me that I would like to take up on a regular basis,' she says.

Another volunteer, mother-of-two Vanessa Norris, 38, used to love sport at school – she was a champion cross country runner.

Her children are aged three-and-a-half and two and she is keen to get back into exercise not just to improve her fitness levels, but to have some all-important me-time.

'I used to be very, very sporty when I was at school. I absolutely loved it,' she says.

'Having two small children I just wanted to get a bit fitter again and get back out there.

'It's something that I really love to do – and it's some much needed 'me' time as well.

'I have always got a real buzz out of sports and training.

'And it's certainly a bit of a stress-buster if you've had a bit of a lively day,' she laughs.

In the second week they played badminton – and there's no better place to try it out than the Sportspark, which has 20 courts making it one of the largest badminton centres in the country.

And in week three they played a team game which was a surprise hit – volleyball.

Volleyball fever is set to hit London next year when the Olympics arrive in the city. Both volleyball and beach volleyball are Olympic sports – and the beach volleyball tournament promises to be a real spectacle when it is held in the historic Horse Guards Parade.

Anna Varley, 32, and her husband Jack, 27, both took part in the course to improve their fitness levels and lose weight. Anna says she was dreading the volleyball session because of her memories of playing it at school. But they were both converted. 'The coach was just brilliant, so enthusiastic,' says Anna. 'I played it at school and I really, really hated it. But we totally changed our minds. Now we might take up volleyball!'

Martyn Wicks, 49, was also a volleyball convert. As well as trying new sports, he is enjoyed the social aspect of the course and meeting new people. 'I hadn't done any exercise for such a long time. I'm 50 this year, which is a big milestone for me. I felt like I was sitting at home watching telly and not doing anything,' he says.

He also enjoyed the badminton lesson and is looking forward to the sessions in the coming weeks. 'It's nice to try the new activities like archery and fencing – I've never done anything like that before. And I haven't ever done yoga.I'd played badminton about 20 years ago and I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it. I felt it the next day from all the stretching,' he says.

Don't miss Life Matters in the Norwich Evening News tomorrow when the volunteers give their verdict on activities including archery and table tennis and face their biggest challenge yet – the climbing wall.