We’re delighted to announce Lavina Mehta MBE has become an Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Society. Lavina tells us why she’s so passionate about raising awareness of dementia in the South Asian community, and about the links between exercise and dementia.
Dementia is very close to my heart after seeing my Nani, Kasturben Shah, struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for the last decade of her life.
Nani (or Baa as we called her in Gujarati,) my maternal grandmother, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 87. Due to her care requirements she was later moved to a care home, and she passed away in 2016 aged 97 years old.
A strong lady
She was a very religious and strong lady, who lost her husband very early in 1965. She had 4 children and moved to the UK from Mombasa in 1985 and lived with her eldest son, my mum’s brother.
She led a very religious and disciplined lifestyle, practicing the Jain religion, with the fundamental beliefs of non-violence. From the age of 85 she started losing her memory, which led to her losing her coordination of her movements.
It was a very difficult decision, especially for an Asian family, but due to her care requirements, she moved to a lovely care home, just walking distance from my uncle’s house.
She battled with Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years of her long life and lost her ability to communicate and speak the last four years she was alive. We all visited her regularly, her son every day, my mum at least twice a week and I also went every week, often with my children who were young then.
Caring for Nani
I used to sit and feed her, sing prayers to her and brush her hair. I’d always take her a chocolate button as a treat for when she finished her meal, as it was something that she would suck and not choke on.
Although she could not tell us or respond to us, we believe that she recognised us and she often used to shed a tear when we would say goodbye.
It was very difficult for us to see the mother of our family struggle like this for so many years. She passed away peacefully seven years ago, but she lives with us forever.
Raising awareness of dementia through exercise
I’m now passionate about raising awareness and understanding of dementia, particularly in the South Asian community, and about promoting the health benefits of exercise to treat, prevent and reduce risks of dementia.
I say in all of my workouts “let’s keep our brains fit!”
The impact of staying active for people with dementia’s quality of life and health is huge, with evidence to suggest that physical activity improves confidence and the wellbeing and may slow down mental decline. My slogan is “to exercise for sanity not vanity.”
I was training women and had launched my National Campaign to “Get Asians Fit” when Covid turned the world on its head. Just before the first Covid lockdown, I started to broadcast free exercise classes twice a day, live on Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, for all ages, including older and vulnerable people.
We continue these free workouts which are done sitting in a chair, and you can do them with or without weights, so they are great for people of all ages and for people with dementia.
Making exercise accessible for all
Thousands of people from all around the world have joined in, but I particularly like it when care homes have their residents exercising with us.
We’ve had people up to the age of 100 join in, proving age is no barrier to exercising!
I also demonstrate standing options and aim to break down the barriers to where exercise can be done, emphasising that you can do it anywhere, whether it’s in your bedroom, kitchen, or lounge. I’ve had such fantastic feedback from participants — so many have never exercised regularly before, let alone on platforms like Instagram and YouTube.
My free seniors workouts are live every Friday morning at 10 am, and then are available on my YouTube channel, so care homes can play them when they have group activity sessions, or anyone can do them any time at all!
I’ve introduced the concept of ‘exercise snacking’, which can be great for people with dementia. It breaks down barriers of time, cost and motivation by promoting bite-sized exercise breaks like a short walk, or a few quick strength or mobility exercises.
I was honoured with an MBE in October 2020 for my services in Health and Fitness over the Covid pandemic.
I went to my investiture at Windsor Castle in December 2021. It has given me a wonderful platform to continue my mission to give back and help as many people as I can to feel good physically and mentally.
Advocating for change
I am also a Patron of the Menopause Mandate, since sharing my own perimenopause journey on social media to help normalise the conversation, especially in the workplace and in the South Asian community where many women are suffering in silence.
I want to break the taboos, raise awareness, change the narrative and help women feel empowered to find solutions, as well as educating the men around us.
I’m particularly passionate about this as latest research points to the link between Alzheimer’s and menopause for women in midlife, and I promote the power of exercise and lifestyle changes to help women ‘feel good’ and embrace this phase.
My relationship with Alzheimer's Society
After a successful corporate career, I decided to take a course to become a personal trainer, for my own interest, after exercise had transformed my body and mind.
I qualified only 4 years ago and never imagined this would be a new career path but its one I truly love and giving back gives me the greatest joy.
But I’d never done a marathon until I joined Alzheimer’s Society’s Trek 26 London walk in 2021. That was a real achievement, and I loved being able to share it on Alzheimer’s Society’s Instagram as I did it!
I have loved being really involved in Trek since 2021, and put together special exercise snack videos to motivate people in training.
I provided tips and workouts to more than 7,000 people who signed up to the Treks last summer, and did in person Stretch sessions for the participants as they crossed the finishing line! I’ll be doing it again this year.
I’m so proud to be formalising my relationship with Alzheimer’s Society as an Ambassador, and delighted that it’s being announced in Race Equality Week.
Many of my social media followers are South Asian women, and to be able to help break down the taboos around dementia in our community is really important to me. I’m blessed to be able to honour my Nani in this way.
Visit Lavina's website for more information on how to get involved with her free workouts.