Gaelic football pundit, former Kerry football player, and PE teacher for 35 years, Pat Spillane was on hand this week to launch a novel fitness challenge for older people throughout the month of June.
Facilitated by the social enterprise, Siel Bleu, the 30 Days to Better Ways campaign offers older people free daily online classes to help them return to a level of fitness that many lost during the pandemic. “We want older people to achieve the 150 minutes of exercise a week that is recommended by the World Health Organisation,” explains Thomas McCabe, national manager of Siel Bleu.
He says that, post pandemic, some older people have been slow to return to exercise classes in their local community centres. “Health professionals have reported serious deconditioning for many older people during the pandemic. People lose muscle by not exercising but we can slow down the ageing process by participating in regular exercise programmes,” says McCabe.
McCabe suggests that the online classes – 11 a week that can be watched live or at a later time – will be an opportunity for people to re-engage with fitness programmes. “It will help them with daily living tasks and encourage people to get back to community based classes,” he says.
Spillane is a fervent exercise advocate. “Exercise should be part of your day, just like having your dinner. It shouldn’t be a chore,” says Spillane, who walks for an hour each day and swims every day in the pool or in the sea during the summer months.
The group of 16 older women – many of whom are in their 80s – seem to be enjoying their exercise class in the Mount Merrion Community Centre when The Irish Times visits. Each person does the chair-based exercises to the best of their ability, with lots of arm raising, foot stretching, feet stomping and side stretching on display.
Anne McQuaid returned to the in-person weekly Siel Bleu exercise classes in Mount Merrion in September 2021. “I try to keep fit. I walk for about an hour every day and the exercises are helping my back pain,” says McQuaid. Her friend, Margo Doyle says that she walks for 30-60 minutes each day. “I’m trying to walk instead of using my car and I’m improving at that,” she says. Clare McGlynn says that she has been doing the classes for years. “I wouldn’t go a week without them,” she says.
McQuaid says the Siel Bleu instructors offer alternative exercises to anyone who can’t complete the suggested ones. Sitting at the front of the class, the Siel Bleu physical trainers model the movements for the participants to follow. The online classes will offer a similar modelling of the exercises for participants to follow from their own homes.
Siel Bleu offers in-person exercise classes to older people in community centres and nursing homes in 20 counties in Ireland. To sign up for the free online exercises classes in the 30 Days to Better Ways campaign from June 1st-30th, see sielbleu.ie