In this Decade of Health Ageing, participation in physical activity is hugey important and there is increasing evidence about the benefits of outdoor physical activity for ageing adventurers. Ireland is ageing and, while an ageing population is positive, the narrative is often negative and harmful, something which has been exacerbated by cocooning. An one-size-fits-all approach presumes that all over 70s are a homogenous group and such stereotyping perpetuates ageism and demotivates older people. Fortunately, as Cyndi Lauper might suggest these days, older people just want to have fun and will do so given the opportunity. 

Cycling, snorkeling and scuba diving

The over-70s interviewed for this research study represent a diverse group and appear fitter than many of their younger counterparts. Progression and skills development were also relevant among the interviewees and these traits that need to be encouraged. Showing capabilities promotes a positive ageing narrative, and potentially greater physical activity participation. Portrayal of abilities is unquestionably more motivating than the ‘I’m too old for that’ stereotype. 

To promote positive ageing, we must first understand older adventurers’ motivations. In this small insight into their world, the interviewees here are optimistic and embrace ageing.

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From TEDxCopenhagenSalon, Ole Kassow on Cycling Without Age's initiative to get people to experience the city and nature by bicyle and rickshaw

"I walk and cycle most days, it’s always an adventure, I know the risks, I love it and don’t want to stop, my friends encourage me. The only people that want me to stop are family." (89-year old female)

While seeing her family as overly protective, she said "I don’t overdo it". Conversely, the encouragement from friends was welcomed. The notion of networks and support is echoed by other older outdoor enthusiasts:

"The club is important, I walk every Tuesday and Sunday. Organisation, leadership and access to graded walks helps." (71-year-old female)

"Engaging in adventure activities with people your own age is great. You engage at this level with no pressure. You build relationships and meet new people." (71-year-old male)

Outside of cocooning, Geale continues snorkeling and diving. Obviously, considerations with respect to equipment, sea conditions and water temperature pertain. However, in the interest of engagement challenges can be overcome. As one 76-year old who had just purchased "a state of the art electric bike" mentioned, "I haven't been getting out as much due to cocooning, but I’m out now. I disregard age; it’s just a number." 

Like many interviewees, this cyclist adapted his approach and equipment to continue cycling safely. Facilitation and normalisation of outdoor adventure activity for older people were areas of concern:

"It’s just not seen as normal for us to be doing adventure activities, providers are afraid we will get hurt." (86-year-old female)

"Older people fear looking foolish, they listen to family saying they shouldn’t do that. Providers don’t cater for us. Active retirement centres are barely active. I go on adventure holidays, kayaking, and scuba diving". (81-year-old female)

Older adventurers are not necessarily motivated by fitness, but they know fitness is important. Physical activity appears to be a byproduct of their activities, so perhaps we need to reframe how we present this for older people?

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Maureen Kavanagh from Active Retirement Ireland on cocooning advice for the over 70s 

"Cocooning is a blunt instrument"

Regardless of ageist undertones, cocooning undermines decades of research emphasising the benefits of remaining socially and physically active. Many public figures, including President Higgins, expressed concern at the lack of consultation with over 70s. 

"Cocooning is a blunt instrument and should not be applied to all over 70s, nobody asked us, the negative impact is not being considered." (71-year-old male)

The poor communication, ageism and lack of consideration of the impact infuriated interviewees:

"It was condescending, Cocooning is not what we are doing; we will not emerge stronger. In fact, we will likely emerge with serious physical and mental health issues." (85-year-old male).

"This is ageism at its most blatant. While ageism has always existed, when you get into governmental and social ageism a major problem arises." (74-year-old female)

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke show, Inez Bailey (National Adult Literacy Agency), Charlie Bird (ex-RTE broadcaster) and Paddy Connolly (Age Action Ireland) on cocooning

While they understood why cocooning was suggested, interviewees in the over-70 age cohort were frustrated with the negative impact that "the cure might be worse than the disease". Consequently, many continued outdoor activity while socially distancing and washing their hands.

A rethink of how we approach ageing is necessary because ageing is not going away. Our exponentially ageing demographic is a positive achievement worth embracing and many examples of enjoyable active ageing exist throughout the country. We need a concerted effort to encourage and promote these possibilities to others.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ