People's History of the NHS

  • 28
  • JUN

NHS Birthday Wish from FLexercise!

by Jenny Crane

We are delighted to publish this NHS Birthday Wish from FLexercise.  It’s a post that captures the excitement for many around the NHS birthday, and also which helps us to reflect on the long historic relationships between voluntarism and health services, and between visions of public health, personal responsibility, and state welfare.  If you want to send the NHS a birthday wish on our website, please do so here!

FLexercise ( congratulates our amazing NHS on its historic 70th birthday and our aim is to encourage many more people to keep fit and healthy lifelong.

The driving force for FLexercise was pioneered nearly 90 years ago by Mary Bagot Stack who combined yoga, remedial exercises and dance to achieve good posture, core control and balance.

Mary’s great-granddaughter and FLexercise President, Saba Douglas Hamilton, said:

“We want to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to the extraordinary staff and everyday heroes who treat millions of people daily.

“Our blueprint is to continue to develop and deliver leading health
classes which embody our core principles of exercise, fun and
”FLexercise classes are part-exercise, part-dance and all fun, offering a unique and friendly approach to fitness and mobility for all ages – our oldest student is over 90. It’s never been more vital to maintain your own health because this is key to the future good shape of our wonderful NHS. ”

It was seven years after Mary’s classes were launched in 1930 that more than 166,000 women had signed up to the Women’s League of Health & Beauty. By World War Two there were 50 nationwide centres.

In 1999 it became the Fitness League and then a founder partner of the Exercise, Movement and Dance Partnership (EMDP) in 2006, developing a nationally-accredited teaching qualification.

FLexercise Vice President, Margaret Peggie, said:

“Desk jobs, too much fast food, lack of exercise and drinking excess alcohol are adding a huge burden to the NHS with an estimated eight in every 10 of people aged 40 – 60- overweight, drinking too much and getting too little exercise.”
“In particular the so-called “sandwich generation” – those caring for children and ageing parents are most likely to neglect their own needs as they look after others; storing up problems for the future.
“Simply by taking positive action in mid-life (and younger) you can dramatically cut your chances of suffering from preventable type 2 diabetes as well as reducing your risk of cancer, stroke, dementia and disability.
“Many people no longer recognise what a healthy body looks or moves like. People find increasingly acceptable to have a sedentary lifestyle, watch TV, use social media, put on weight and simply move up a dress size. It’s easy to change this mindset, get out, make friends and keep healthy for your own sake and for the NHS.”

Pairing opposing workouts – hybrid classes – is the new back-to-thefuture mind and body routine that FLexercise pioneered for nine decades to work every part of the body to sculpt and tone muscles and improve overall health.

It’s the unique combination of yoga, dance and specialist exercises that ‘zip’ up core strength and increases flexibility which in turn boosts natural movement and mental focus.

With ongoing, regular practice this releases feel-good endorphins, reduces stress levels and makes you less likely to reach for that soothing but unhealthy sugary treat or glass of wine.

Engaging in such combination classes regularly, especially when they are fun, can help improve sleep, mental strength and overall sense of well-being and happiness. Before 1948 visiting a doctor could cost the equivalent of half a week’s wages and health was determined by wealth and dangerous diseases like tuberculosis, scarlet fever, syphilis, typhoid, whooping cough and smallpox which were rife and deeply feared.

Mary Bagot Stack targeted women in particular when setting up her classes because none of them received free medical care before the NHS in the same way as many men did through their employment.

Incredibly, the NHS deals with more than 1 million people ever 36 hours and in 2015/16 there were 16.252m total hospital admissions – 28 per cent more than a decade earlier (12.679m)

Margaret added:

“In the 21st Century keeping fit and healthy is to some extent an environmental problem. Our NHS is the envy of so many other countries with its equality of free access, from cradle to grave.
“Many of the modern leading causes of death cancer, heart attacks and stroke can be alleviated by a more holistic way of living, an awareness of your present health and deciding on future goals. This is where FLexercise wins.”

For more information on FLexercise classes or to discuss our history further, please contact or visit

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