April 3, 2014

Graham Webster


Graham who is aged 71, pulls no punches when it comes to himself: “I was a grumpy old man. I was cranky and frustrated at all the things I could no longer do. It was terrible for everyone around me.”Graham’s wife, Evelyn, confirmed his assessment. “He was no fun to come home to, that’s for sure.” It was one reason she thrust a brochure into his hand a few months ago, which promoted a ‘Go for your life’ Physical Grants project called Living Life, organised by the Villa Maria Society at the Wantirna Rehabilitation Centre, Victoria.The program was developed to improve the level of physical activity, quality of life and the level of community participation of older people with chronic illnesses.

To Evelyn’s surprise, Graham agreed to participate in the 12-week Living Life program, which involved physical activity and a diverse range of information sessions. Graham explained: “It really changed my life. Of course I am still a bit grumpy sometimes, but the whole experience has taught me to look at life differently and to realise I can make small changes to my life that can make a big difference.”

Graham and Evelyn both agree that his outlook on life deteriorated when he became ill with emphysema in the 1990s. Before his illness he had been a fit construction worker, able to lift, climb ladders and work all day. Slowly though as his health deteriorated and he put on weight, Graham became more and more frustrated with his physical limitations and his moods reflected his disappointment: “I just let myself go physically and it had a big impact on my mental health. I agreed to go to Living Life because I had become frail and depressed.”

The Living Life program showed Graham how small changes could improve his physical, emotional and mental health. Each week he participated in an exercise program, which became more intense as he became fitter and more confident. He loved the talks, which covered issues such as falls and falls prevention, posture, aromatherapy, healthy eating, exercise and services to support him. One talk on how to develop a more positive attitude to life had a profound effect on Graham, ‘opening his eyes’ to what life had become.

He began the program able to walk 330 metres in 6 minutes. After 12 weeks he could walk 450 metres in the same time and breathe more easily as he walked. Living Life instructors also introduced participants to a range of physical activity options to pursue once the course ended. Graham and two other men from the program now attend a local gym each week. The Ringwood East couple are enjoying each other’s company much more these days and Graham has also become a mentor for new Living Life participants, speaking at sessions.

Evelyn said: “Strange to say it about a man his age, but I think he has blossomed, he has come back to life again.” Since the ‘Go for your life’ Living Life program began in 2006, 12 courses have been held and 91 people ranging in age from 60 to 88 have participated. Melbourne University is currently studying Living Life to determine the health and well being benefits of the program. The Villa Maria Society is currently working on a resource manual for other organisations to implement Living Life programs to help people to lead more active lives.