Never too old to get active


While adult education improves the mind and is good socially, exercise keeps you in good shape and reduces depression, writes JOANNE HUNT

‘I WANT to keep older people away from the likes of me for as long as possible,” jokes Dr Tadhg Crowley.

A GP at Ayrfield Medical Practice in Kilkenny, the first place to take part in The Irish Times/Pfizer Healthcare healthy towns project, Crowley has plenty of tips to keep older people out of his surgery.

He encourages those close to retirement to plan ahead. “If you are out working five days a week, you need to plan to keep getting out by getting involved in local activities,” he says.

“Some people can become more socially isolated because they are not in the workplace.”

He cautions that this can become a vicious circle where the less you go out, the less you feel like going out.

“Sometimes you have to fight a little bit to keep yourself motivated,” he says. Adult education can be a great social outlet and it keeps the brain ticking over. “There are hundreds of evening classes in towns all over the country from pottery to whatever you want. You’re never too old to learn.”

He says regular exercise not only keeps your muscles and bones in good condition, staving off falls, but can also reduce incidences of depression.

“A hundred yard walk, whatever you can manage . . . that creates endorphins, a natural high the body produces that can counteract depression.”

With yoga for older people kicking off in his surgery in the coming weeks, he says it’s never too late to take part.

“Going to the doctor is important but it’s only one aspect of health whatever age you are,” he says. “I want people to focus on what they can do for themselves.”

Babs Murphy and nine of her friends from the Sacred Heart Active Retirement Association in Waterford are just back from a week in Torremolinos.

“Some of them love the beach or they lie at the pool half the day and another crowd then, we’d go off shopping. We’d all meet at night for dinner and have a little drink after.”

With 20 members, all women aged 60-78, the idea for the club come about when former president Mary McAleese visited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of St John’s Park, the housing estate in or near where the women live.

Murphy, chief organiser of the Spain trip and secretary and a founding member of the club, loves their weekly get-togethers in the nearby Butler Community Centre. “It’s the company definitely. I’m on my own, my husband died nine years ago and it’s the company.”

Monday meet-ups range from exercises to line dancing to the very popular meditation session. “There’s music in the background and you hear the birds whistling and she’s talking you through it. You close your eyes and sit back in the chair. It’s absolutely beautiful. A lot of the women say they feel great after it.”

Having done day trips to the chocolate factory in Carlow and the Titanic festival in Cobh this summer, this weekend the group is taking a boat trip down the Shannon.

And then there’s Waterford’s upcoming Golden Years Festival, the brainchild of the late actor, Waterford-native Anna Manahan. Murphy and her friend Peg ran with the idea and now, almost a decade later, the three-day event comprises talent shows, horse racing, fashion shows and a gala dinner drawing older people to Waterford from near and far. “It’s great fun,” says Murphy. “And everyone is more than welcome to come and join us.”

The Carrigaline Active Retirement Association is nothing if not active. Last year the 84-strong group installed a new outdoor gym for older people in the town’s park.

Last Thursday was the group’s first day back after the summer and they headed for the park. “The minute we got there everybody started using the machines,” says chairwoman Patricia Sheridan. “The association really is what it says, ‘active retired’.”

Aged 50-95, members meet for two hours on a Thursday where activities include line dancing, cards, “golden yoga”, with t’ai chi starting next month. “It’s just for people to get out and meet other people, that’s really what it’s all about. You can really see the difference in people. And I can see the difference in myself,” says Sheridan. When her youngest went off to college she says, “It was, ‘what am I going to do with myself?’”

About the active retirement group she says, “On the first or second week, I didn’t think it was for me but by the third week I was hooked. I’d never have thought I’d become chairperson of anything. I never got involved in committees or anything like that but now I find I’m pretty good at it,” says the 64 year old.

Forthcoming events include a slide-show by a local historian of old photos of Cork city, a walk from Carrigaline to Crosshaven along the old railway track and a Christmas trip to see Oliver at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

While the group comprises mostly women, the recently set-up Men’s Sheds initiative is proving popular with Carrigaline’s menfolk.

“The young lads are learning new trades from the older men and older men who are living on their own are so delighted because they feel they are passing something down to a younger generation.

“There’s a big catchment area here with a lot of farming land and a lot of loneliness,” says Sheridan. “We’re encouraging people to come in. Between these two groups, we’re delighted with ourselves.”

Dr Tadgh Crowley, GP and Kilkenny Hurling team doctor, will give a talk – Planning for Healthy Ageing – at Langton’s Hotel, Kilkenny, tonight at 7pm. For further information, see

The Golden Years Festival runs from November 12th-14th

Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, Glenties, Co Donegal

With some 44,000 people in Ireland living with dementia, reminiscence therapies that raise cherished memories can bring much joy.

Caitríona Gallagher works with the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland in Donegal and also runs a weekly activities day in Glenties, specially tailored to those with dementia.

When an older person is referred to the service, she will first visit them at home.

“It’s about finding out what’s important to them – the people in their lives, where they met their husband, what it was they loved in life – was it farming, the tractors, the sheep and cattle, whatever it was they loved.”

At the reminiscence days in Glenties, music, song and memory boxes with photos and items of old can all spark fond memories and conversations.

With many women in rural Donegal having been great knitters, the reminiscence therapy has sought to reintroduce them to it.

“It’s just 20 stitches on a needle and it’s amazing to see that come back. It’s still there in the long-term memory. Sometimes we just need the right trigger and that’s what reminiscence is all about,” says Caitríona.

“I think it can be a very solitary and isolated world so even if for five minutes the light comes into their eyes and they are living in the here and now and there is a smile on their face, it has to be good.”


HEALTHY AGEING: 2nd to 6th October

Tonight: Talk on Planning for Healthy Ageing by Dr Tadgh Crowley, GP and Kilkenny Hurling team doctor, at Langton’s Hotel at 7pm

4th: Older Adults Fest: Free Taster activities from 10am-1pm in the Watershed including bowling, skittles, pilates and fit walk among others

5th: Older Adult Pool Activities: Free pool-based activities, 2pm-3pm in Watershed.

6th: Mayor’s Walk at 11am from the Parade

On the web: The second of four modules of exercises designed to help you get fit have now been posted on The Irish Times healthy town microsite.They are demonstrated by Olympic boxer and Kilkenny man Darren O’Neill and designed by strength and conditioning coach Eoin Maguire, of the Institute of Sport.

Each module is designed to be carried out over a two-week period. And don’t worry if you missed the first two weeks – they are still available on the site.

For more details of the Irish Times/Pfizer

Healthcare Ireland’s Healthy Town project,see irishtimescom/healthytown

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