It's January and thoughts turn to New Year Resolutions of being a fitter, healthier and all-round better person.
Yes, exercise can support weight loss. And yes, exercise ticks the box of making us fitter.
But it can be so much more than that besides. 
To try and turn the new year fitness narrative on its head, The Herald is speaking to people who are using exercise to make their dreams come true and to support active living into old age.

The music is high and the energy is higher still as two personal trainers in kilts take the exercise group through their paces.

But this is not a typical group training session - we're in a care home and the participants are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. 

Brothers Tony and Joe Burns set up Burns Gym in 2019 and quickly realised there was a gap in the market for fitness sessions for the elderly.

They now work with clients developing personal fitness programmes for those aged between 20 and 100 - and are working in hundreds of care homes across the UK for what they say is an under-served group. 

"Personal trainers in the care sector was almost unheard of," Joe said. "It was a niche in what everyone calls a saturated industry.

"But we found we can help people who actually really, really need it."

And the pair clearly love their work, particularly as they arrived in the fitness industry from very different backgrounds.

Both brothers were into sports and training as young men but Joe, 39, became an engineer working in the oil industry in Aberdeen while Tony, 36, was a police officer. 

The oil industry was experiencing a downturn and it was, Joe said, "an eye opener" that made him reassess what he wanted to do with his life.

The Herald:

For Tony, setting up a gym with his brother and best mate was a "no brainer".

"Some people said, 'Why are you leaving the police?' But I think that if you utilise your passion and you do it with 100% then there's a chance that something amazing will happen," he said.

It was no easy route to success - the pair did not want to start a business with debts so began saving funds for personal investment in the business.

Burns Gym opened four years ago in Glasgow city centre but the brothers wanted to do something different. 

Joe said: "We were inspired by things that were going on in London, like boutique studios, but there just wasn't the market for it in Glasgow so we decided to open a PT studio to start with. 

"Obviously PT is always associated with glamour and vanity but for us, we wanted to tie into the root fundamentals which are physical and mental well being.

"That's when we started kind of trying to think outside the box and we delivered voluntary care home sessions."

The volunteer sessions became so popular that the brothers struggled to keep up with demand - but when one home said they would pay for the service, it was a lightbulb moment. 

Tony is, by his own admission, obsessed with research and began intensely investigating the best way to support elderly clients.

He has brought in experts for advice, such as Professor Dawn Skelton of Glasgow Caledonian University, an expert in ageing and health, as well as contacting academics in the US. 

Tony said: "With ageing there's a decline in physiological function - your muscle system, your bones, cognitive ability, your neurological pathways.

The Herald:

"With all the exercises that we include in the workout we look at how do you improve these and how do you try and combat the decline even further?"

Strength principles, balance, flexibility, speed and power all come into play - but all done very carefully. 

Joe added: "We're trying to help that by getting people to move more and implementing these principles like strength, balance, speed, flexibility, coordination, reaction time.

"Unfortunately, if you're in a care home it's for a reason so we're trying to support functional movement because that plays a huge part in what these people do, their independence.

"With more muscle mass, you protect your bones as well.

The Herald:

"So if some day they have a fall, if you have a bit of muscle mass, there's a good chance there might be some good protection.

"When you get to towards the end of your life, things like feeding yourself with a fork or without having to strain your neck, all of these things, you wouldn't give it a second thought until you couldn't do it."

Joe and Tony say it is vital to be mindful of their clients' fitness capabilities and take additional care with the kinds of frailties and physiological functions of older people. 

Joe said: "There's a lot of research coming to light now about the importance of strength training all the way through your life.

"It's now coming to the forefront because social media is kind of blowing everything up. 

"There's a lot of credible people who are actually talking about the importance of strength training and how that can reduce the risk of mortality, such as in reduction in falls."

Tony added: "A resident might only be able to do that" - he makes a small movement of his arm - "But if they've never done that for years, there might be a good chance some of the movements are improvement."

Tony and Joe will consider what residents are doing in their daily life, such as picking up cups of tea.

It seems straightforward but the PTs consider that they are using their hand, their fingers, the wrist, the bicep to bring the cup up and the tricep to release it. 

And the workouts are built around what will be functionally useful for residents. 

They are careful not to say that they are building muscle or cardiovascular fitness but in a 30-minute class people will be exerting more energy than they would otherwise. 

The Herald:

Care homes report residents being brighter, more mobile and more active and there can be improvements in balance and agility.

Some of the feedback forms are extremely touching. 

One home says they have a resident who would refuse to leave her room but came along to the fitness class and "absolutely loved it". 

This is vital to the brothers who focus on residents' emotional well being as well as their physical health. 

While Tony and Joe try to get out to care homes where they can, the sessions are carried out over Zoom and are designed to be as engaging as possible.

They will sing happy birthday - "Extremely poorly," Joe adds - to anyone celebrating and make a fuss of any special occasions. 

Joe said: "We will try and be as charismatic as possible.

"We'll try and project our passion across the screen, but there's always going to be people who maybe just prefer the music and that's fair enough."

The staff in the homes are a vital piece of the picture too, helping be hands on where Tony and Joe can't. 

Joe says they've even seen kitchen staff dragged in to take part in sessions and family members will join in too. 

Zoom also has its comedy moments, such as when someone forgets to mute themselves. 

The pair have heard some choice comments. "They are always very honest," Joe said. 

As well as the kilts, the PTs will do themed workouts - including a Rat Pack session where they both dressed in tuxedos. 

The Herald:

Joe said: "About five ripped blazers later we decided to stick with the kilts because they are a bit more free flowing - and the care homes down south love them." 

The Rat Pack session is a nod to their grandparents, to whom the brothers were very close and to whom they credit their "natural rapport" with older people. 

Tony said: "We are also a bit older, so we come to it with a bit more knowledge, experience and we are very different.

"Neither of us are heading off to go on to Love Island or anything.

"We literally are really interested in how do we help people the best way we can and who needs it more than people in care homes?

"Because ultimately, these people, some of them are at the very end stages of their life.

"During the pandemic, when we started, some people had no one. Some of these people would be cognitively impaired, being told to stay in their rooms, so for us, the question was, 'How do we give these people something when they have nothing?'"

In the coming year they have some big plans ahead - including a new contract with North Lanarkshire Council. 

But the main aim is to sign up as many care homes as possible.

Joe said: "Working with the elderly population is rewarding but also super important and it's probably still not getting quite the attention that it deserves.

"So we want to continue fighting the fight and making sure that we're trying to get that message out there as much as we can.

"We log in and do this and you see all these faces at our end, you can never get tired of that."

"Never," Tony adds. "It lights you up when you see them."