Every Wednesday afternoon Martina comes to the Huntstown Community Centre to give a Siel Bleu class, an exercise class usually attended by people over 50, and every week she leaves a group of around 20 women hugely energised, motivated and happy.
Exercise is not just good for your physical, but also your mental health. Several studies have proven this in recent years and Siel Bleu classes are making the best out of the finding.
Siel Bleu was founded by two students in France in 1997 who wanted to bring the benefits of physical exercise to older people and developed this special programme which is typically chair based.
Just as in France, the programme started off in Ireland in nursing homes about 5 years ago and has proven to not just increase the mobility of participants but their overall wellbeing. Studies have shown benefits like 87% improvement in moving capacity or 15% reduction in participants feeling life is empty.
Seeing its benefits in nursing homes, Siel Bleu Ireland decided to also open the model up for community groups that anyone can join for just a very small fee. Now more and more communities come on board to offer the classes to older people or anyone who isn’t 100% mobile or just doesn’t enjoy going to the gym and training on their own.
Like in Huntstown, the classes are often run in Community Centres but can be hosted anywhere where there is room to put some chairs together. Anyone can take the initiative and start a group. If there is enough demand Siel Bleu will do their best to provide a trainer. The level of the class is always adjusted depending on the people who take part in it. The Huntstown class is one of the “top classes” in Martina’s words.
It’s different from nursing homes as everyone gets here themselves. I can train them a bit harder and they also like to be challenged a bit more. They’re brilliant. I just love coming here on a Wednesday evening. The people are great, it’s always a big laugh. They all leave a bit sweaty and with a big smile on their faces.
Chair based exercise classes do exist elsewhere but chairs are often set up in rows and for Siel Bleu it’s very important to sit in a circle.
“People can look at each other, maybe compete a bit with each other or laugh with each other”, Martina tells. “Siel Bleu is not just about the exercises it’s also a meeting group. There are a lot of widows in the group for example. It’s a way to get out and meet new people”.
Doreen has only been here for the 4th time but she is already sure she’s gonna stick with it:It’s just terrific. The teacher is brilliant. She is so laid back, she doesn’t fuss, I just really enjoy it,she tells.
There are other classes where you have to force yourself to go to, and then there is Siel Bleu:
The class in the Huntstown Community Centre is one of the biggest Siel Bleu classes in Ireland with a huge loyalty among all the participants. Listening to the women in the class – and it is only women coming to this class for no particular reason – Martina seems to be the main driver for them to come every week. Everyone is full of praise for the Siel Bleu trainer who has been working with the social enterprise from its very beginning in Ireland.
Catherine has been coming for a good while now:
I always wanted to do some more exercise and I came here because it was right up my alley. When I came along it was fun from the start. It’s about the relaxed atmosphere. I tried Pilates and that was so serious. I went to three classes and I came out and felt drained. When I come out here I feel energised. I’m just bouncing when I leave. I love coming.
Martina, or Tina as everyone calls her, is an animator, motivator, trainer and friend for everyone here: “There are some people who don’t do any exercises and only come to my classes because of me.â€œ
What has motivated Martina to stay with Siel Bleu for so long now is the diversity of the people she works with.
I have people with dementia or other serious illnesses, people who suffer from mental health issues and don’t feel comfortable getting out going to the gym, then I come to a community class where everyone can work a bit harder, then I see a group of retired nuns, a 100 year old lady, it’s unreal.
She is sure that she will stay with Siel Bleu until she retires:
I’m a lifer. I used to be a mainstream gym trainer but came to a point where I wanted to change something, I didn’t want to work for the purpose of just making profit. Siel Bleu is more about the people and you see the impact you have on their lives. I was suddenly helping people no-one else was helping. If you’re working with someone who has dementia and they haven’t got a clue what’s going on around them and then they take part in your class, enjoy themselves and their carer says ‘I haven’t see them like that for years’, that makes your day.
Mary joined the Siel Bleu class because she had to do something for her health. Her doctor told her she had to lose weight to get her blood pressure down. So she bought a fitness bike to train at home and she goes for long walks but nothing is like the Siel Bleu classes.
It’s hard but I need it very badly and it’s helping me. If there is something you can’t do, there is no pressure at all and it’s more fun to do it together. Some weeks I don’t want to come but then I regret it. I just feel better when I do the class. You’re guaranteed to have a few laughs throughout the class and when you come out you just feel so positive.
There are more than 18 community classes up and running now in Ireland but Siel Bleu has set itself a goal to support 15 more communities between now and July to start new classes. That would mean at least 225 more happier people like the women in Huntstown.
If you’d like to bring a class to your community, read all about how it works here
If you’re interested in joining, here you can find the locations and areas where Siel Bleu is up and running.