“I love this group, ‘cause I’m the young one”, Ciara Brennan jokes as her friends come to join her on the gym floor in Gym Plus Ashbourne.
When we heard about a group of our dedicated members who had forged a friendship through fitness, we wanted to learn more about them. So on this early Wednesday morning, Ciara and her four friends are chatting to us about the social side of exercise and how it has helped them all lead happier, healthier lifestyles.
The club is buzzing with activity and the group of five women, aged 49 to 73, are feeling energetic and ready for their workouts. Ciara has only returned from a work shift at 3.30am and she admits it was a struggle to get up. However, she says the gym and the group give her the push she needs.
“If I didn’t have something to get up for I would waste my mornings lying in bed, flicking through the iPad. This gives me that kick I need to get up and out.”
The group formed a special friendship 4 years ago in Gym Plus Ashbourne. Some were lifelong sports and fitness devotees, others discovered a passion for exercise in later life. All agree that when it comes to maintaining health and fitness, there is definitely strength in numbers.
“We would chat before or after a class,” Helen says, remembering how they first met.
“And we have a lot in common, a similar sense of humour, so our friendship grew organically,” Ciara adds. “It’s the camaraderie, that support that motivates us.”
They now have a WhatsApp group to keep in touch and to hold each other accountable when needed.
“If I’m running late, I’ll get a message from the group asking where I am. It’s a great way to keep me motivated” Martina says.
Motivation and Support
The group’s friendship extends beyond the club walls, with regular coffee meet-ups after their workouts, nights out together, birthday and dinner parties. And with three of the group turning 50 this year, there’s been plenty of opportunities for celebrations.
“We love a good night out and to get glammed up,” Ciara says. “That’s one of the things we all have in common.”
“….And we always have a great laugh,” Helen continues.
“Yeah I agree, we do support each other a lot” Sandra adds.
“But support through banter” Ciara clarifies. “If someone lifts a lighter weight, the others will tease and ask why they’re taking it easy. We don’t let each other away with anything and give each other that push when needed.”
“However we’re also the first ones to compliment each other or congratulate someone when they have reached a goal” she adds.
And the benefits of fitness friendships, such as this one, are backed by research. Social connections have been proven to amplify the health benefits of exercise. It boosts motivation to work out and makes the experience more fun, as well as helping those in the group more resilient to stress.
A quick survey of the group about their personal fitness goals and the consensus is they all want to maintain a healthy weight. As well as limit the risk of disease and injury and be fit enough to handle whatever may come in the future.
“Yep, it’s all about balance,” Barbara says. “We do this to maintain our health and to be able to enjoy life.”
“I do this so I can eat cake,” Ciara responds jokingly.
Barbara, aged 66, recently experienced first hand how her physical fitness has helped her deal with life’s hardships. It’s only been 11 weeks since she had a hip replacement.
“She’s an inspiration to the rest of us,” Ciara says in admiration as the others nod in agreement. “Not only has she had a hip replacement, but she lost 2 stone before that!”
Barbara knows her health and level of physical fitness before the operation were key to recovery post-op. Eager now to increase her strength, she is back at her regular classes, feeling fit and looking great.
A Typical Session
A typical session for the group involves a light cardio warmup followed by a class or weight training exercises.
“We mostly do the circuits,” Ciara says. “Kettlebells and other types of resistance training.”
Ciara wasn’t always so keen on exercising in the past, “I was lazy and I’m an ex-smoker, so this helps me keep the weight off. When I first started I was only lifting 5kg or 10kg weights, now I lift 20kg and I’m getting stronger all the time.”
“There are no more weights!” Helen teases in response.
And the experts agree, strength training for older adults is essential to a healthy lifestyle. It helps reduce the risk of developing and reduce the symptoms of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and obesity. It’s also vital to improve the body’s bone density and lower the risk of osteoporosis, especially if there is a history of it in the family.
Some of the group also enjoy the indoor cycling classes and have tested out the new Les Mills Virtual Cycling class, available on-demand. And they all like the occasional dip in the pool to unwind and ease the muscle aches after a tough workout.
“I’ve never left here in a bad mood, even if I’m having a bad day” says Sandra.
“It’s that feeling you get after a great workout and you’re tired and your muscles may be aching but you can’t help but smile,” Helen continues.
“It’s mood-altering,” Ciara adds.
And they’re right, exercise helps the body release endorphins or the “feel-good” chemicals. The body also produces serotonin, norepinephrine, BDNF and dopamine when exercising. These will all have a positive effect on your brain, reducing stress and boosting your mood. Furthermore, strength training has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and improve self-esteem.
As we finish chatting, one of the gym instructors passes and the group tell him they’re running a bit late to class this morning.
“But it’s ok, ‘cause he’s our favourite instructor” they offer, with a wink.
“And you’re my favourite ladies,” he smiles back.
And with that, the group of five friends head off together laughing, ready to start their workouts and for the day ahead.
If you and a friend would like to become a member of Gym Plus now is the best time to do it! Join in July for just €2 joining fee each. If you would like to try us out for free first, grab your guest pass HERE.
Special thanks to Gym Plus Ashbourne members Ciara Brennan, Sandra Maynard, Helen McCann, Martina Darcy and Barbara Rodgers for taking part in the interview.