Cocooning: ‘I want to be fit enough to see my 83rd birthday at the end of May’

Older people are taking part in virtual exercise classes and using social media to stay connected

Kathleen Atkinson (82) is a very busy lady, despite the fact she is cocooning by herself at her home in Cabra, Dublin 7.

To fill her time, she plays puzzles, does arts and crafts, rides her stationary bike and attends virtual exercise classes twice daily.

"I've done sit down exercises in John Paul Park for the last five years," Ms Atkinson said. "I really missed that. So now I have Paul on the internet and we do the exercises with him. But I do miss getting out."

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11am, Age and Opportunity, an organisation for older people, holds a virtual exercise class through a Facebook Live video before uploading the demonstrations to YouTube.


Ms Atkinson said she loves the classes, and she doesn’t know what she would do if the service wasn’t there.

“I love Paul’s exercises. He has a great variety and you don’t get bored. All of us in the old group are doing it. I do it twice daily,” she added. “I want to be fit enough to be able to see my 83rd birthday at the end of May.”

‘Slightly strange’

Ms Atkinson isn't the only one partaking in the online classes. Marian Mooney (66) in Co Westmeath is too. She admits "it's slightly strange" that she's doing them by herself but she thinks it's important to keep healthy and active, "especially as you get older".

“The virtual group is a great idea. We get to do ranges of movements and even play games. I just constantly find myself laughing; it’s really fun,” she said.

Paul Gallier, active programme assistant manager at Age and Opportunity, said 4,000 people watch the videos live and many more are watching them back on YouTube at a later date.

“The fear was that if people are housebound then they wouldn’t be as physically active. So the main part of the sessions is fun, but you also get the added benefit of the exercise,” he said.

“They’re not going to run a marathon but the aim is functional fitness so they can get on with daily living and allow them to maintain independence.”

The classes include sitting down exercises, standing up movements and then games on Fridays.

“We’ve tried to access as many people as possible and a lot of people aren’t online. So we also developed information sheets and a DVD with six sessions so people who don’t use the internet can still take part,” Mr Gallier added.

Age and Opportunity isn’t the only organisation enabling older people to keep involved in activities during these challenging times.

The Men's Sheds, an organisation to support men who have retired, has established a number of creative groups on WhatsApp to allow its members continue the activities they usually take part in when the sheds are running normally.

For Barry Sheridan, chief executive of Men’s Sheds, the biggest concern was to ensure older people could stay connected.

"Obviously we can't do that physically, so we are doing it virtually through Zoom and social media. Using technology can be a challenge for some of them, but the men have adapted really quickly. Some of them have been fantastic and really innovative," Mr Sheridan said.

“When the sheds closed, one of our other concerns was members who might struggle with technology so we encouraged the sheds to set up a buddy system. This means that people who wouldn’t have access to the online groups will get a call each day, especially men who live alone or who are particularly at risk of being isolated.”

Online art group

The Waterford Estuary shed has set up an online art group. "They got loads of art supplies and then the coronavirus happened suddenly so they decided to set up a thing called dabbling in art," said Andrew Power, a volunteer with men's sheds in Waterford.

“One of the members goes on YouTube and gets an art tutorial and shares it with the other members. They all do it and then upload the individual paintings into their WhatsApp group and talk about it.”

Norman Farragher, who is involved with the Naas Men's Shed, explained his group has set up a musical WhatsApp group because music is "very important to them".

“Each night, they’ll sit at home, sing into their phone and then post it into the WhatsApp group. We thought this would be a good way to stay connected for banter and stories,” Mr Farragher said.

“We wouldn’t have a connection without technology. They’re all engaging with it, and each of them are contributing in their own ways. Whether it’s singing a song, or sending pictures of their flowers or sharing jokes. They’re all just wonderful guys.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times