For eight years, Niloufer Sultana has faced a number of health challenges, including being diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and suffering from a stroke and three heart attacks. By 2016 Niloufer knew it was time for a lifestyle change. Upon joining the YMCA, she felt she had finally found a place where she was welcome and comfortable enough to work on her health.

In 2009, Niloufer was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Most of her family have Type 1 diabetes, and she knew she was at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if her health did not improve. But finding the time to work on her health and wellbeing goals was a challenge. 

“I have always been health conscious but then with full time work for two years I didn’t go to the gym - I didn’t have a chance. I wasn’t looking after myself from the fitness point of view.”

After Niloufer found herself in hospital following a series of heart attacks, her doctor and the Heart Foundation recommended she join a YMCA gym and participate in the Jumpstart diabetes education and lifestyle programme. The 10 week programme supports those at risk or struggling with diabetes by offering nutrition seminars, fitness plans and a supportive community of like-minded individuals facing similar challenges. 

Niloufer’s story reflects many of the struggles people face finding safe and equitable access to healthy living opportunities – particularly women or those balancing numerous commitments. The YMCA helped restore Niloufer’s confidence in joining a gym and participating in fitness activities. 

“Many Muslim ladies don’t go to mixed gyms,” explains Niloufer. 

“I want to encourage them to because there are not many ladies gyms around anymore so I want to show that you can do it and that it’s a comfortable place to go.” 

As she settled into the Jumpstart programme, Niloufer was amazed at how friendly and supportive everyone was, particular her trainer, and she loves being surrounded by the positive culture. 

“It’s very comfortable here. There are lovely people and they are all so welcoming to me.”

Speaking to Niloufer’s trainer Nicola Leney, it’s easy to understand why Niloufer managed to feel so accepted right from the very beginning: “People walk into a gym and it looks scary. Women may feel intimidated, and this is where we come in to help,” says Nicola.

“Jumpstart is a great way to start small and learn how to start looking after yourself in a very supportive environment while you gain the confidence to do it by yourself.”

Niloufer says when she joined the Jumpstart programme she didn’t know what to expect, but now she has a healthy lifestyle, is feeling good and is having fun all while challenging herself and the beliefs she long-held about what she could achieve. She encourages everyone to come on in, use the facilities and make the most of it, and says it’s a wonderful experience and a blessing to have a programme for people with diabetes.

Niloufer has been through the Jumpstart programme three times now, and is eager to support other women considering joining a gym or pursuing health and fitness goals.

Following her positive experiences, she is encouraging her friends and others in her community to join the YMCA, telling them to just be themselves and feel confident. 

“Be dressed as you like, do your workout and the trainers there will support you,” she says. 

“You don’t have to feel isolated.”

Jumpstart operates four times per year at several locations around New Zealand. Find out more at> jumpstartprogramme.co.nz

Author: Petra Brinkman