A HOST of initiatives and events are already in place to improve the health of people in Wear Valley.

Leading the drive is Britain's first local authority funded community fitness officer, appointed in 1986.

In a bid to reduce the risk of heart disease in the area, Wear Valley District Council formed a partnership with local health care organisations to offer preventative services. In 1989 this teamwork led to the piloting and development of one of the country's first phase three cardiac rehabilitation programmes to be delivered in a community leisure complex setting.

The scheme is a core part of Wear Valley District Council and South Durham NHS Trust's delivery of services to encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent future, often avoidable, illness.

Born out of the initial success of the cardiac rehabilitation programme is The Dales Exercise Referral Programme, which was launched over a decade ago to fight heart disease.

Health staff assess patients' suitability and potential benefits of the course then the leisure and marketing department helps patients complete individually tailored exercise routines.

The Physically Active for Life Seniors programme, PALS, targets older people who have reservations about joining a leisure club or starting strenuous activity.

The aims of the programme are to promote the benefits of physical and social activity for older people by offering a range of enjoyable activities.

To compliment the ongoing efforts of those schemes are a series of events, which offer a new way to exercise or a personal goal for people aiming for higher fitness levels. During 2003 those events will include the revived Great North Walk, which had to be cancelled for the last two years because of foot-and-mouth movement restrictions.