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'Taking my daughter's online Pilates lessons is great for keeping me fit and I also get talking to others in the class'

Retired Co Down man Jack McIlduff (74) has enjoyed sport all his life. Now, with the restrictions of isolation during the coronavirus crisis, he tells Stephanie Bell how he and his wife Eileen are coping

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Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Jack McIlduff

Jack McIlduff

Happy family: Jack and Eileen McIlduff with their son-in-law David Saligari and grandchildren Quinn, Luca and Conal

Happy family: Jack and Eileen McIlduff with their son-in-law David Saligari and grandchildren Quinn, Luca and Conal

Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Handy advice: Rachel Saligari

Handy advice: Rachel Saligari

Brian Thompson

Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

A pensioner who enjoyed an active lifestyle before being locked down two weeks ago is using the internet to keep in touch with family, friends - and maintain his fitness.

Jack McIlduff (74), a retired insurance company owner, is coping with being confined to home by focusing on ways to keep his mind, body and soul healthy during this difficult period.

Jack and his wife Eileen (72), who have four children and 11 grandchildren, have been especially grateful to their local Pilates clinic for arranging to continue classes online.

Holywood-based Active Health Solutions, which is run by their daughter Rachel Saligari, had planned the grand opening of a state-of-the-art £100,000 second clinic in Bangor last week but didn't get to open the doors.

Instead they have poured all their efforts into opening a new virtual service to keep the company going and help clients to cope with isolation.

For regulars like Jack, it has proved a lifeline during the quiet days spent at home since lockdown began for him and his wife two weeks ago.

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Happy family: Jack and Eileen McIlduff with their son-in-law David Saligari and grandchildren Quinn, Luca and Conal

Happy family: Jack and Eileen McIlduff with their son-in-law David Saligari and grandchildren Quinn, Luca and Conal

Happy family: Jack and Eileen McIlduff with their son-in-law David Saligari and grandchildren Quinn, Luca and Conal

"The thing about doing any exercise class is not just about the benefits of getting exercise but being able to interact with other people in the class," Jack says.

"After the classes are over we usually enjoy a conversation and from that point of view I really look forward to them, especially now we are in isolation.

"My wife and I have both been doing two one-hour classes a week and now we hope to increase that to three. Everyone else in the class appears on screen and we all see each other and chat at the end."

And he jokes: "It is great that Rachel is taking the reformer classes but she is tough on you, there is no sympathy!"

Jack says that he is finding being cut off from his four children and 11 grandchildren the most difficult part of isolation.

He has a son, Tom (46), who is CEO of a European insurance company who is on lockdown with his family in Madrid, and another, John (48), a writer in Paris, as well as a son Fergus (38), an accountant, and daughter Rachel (42), who live close by in Helen's Bay.

Of Jack's 11 grandchildren, who are aged from four to 19, five of them live in Europe and six at home and not seeing them, he admits, has been a struggle.

"My wife and I still go out for a walk and we would let the family know beforehand so that we can walk past their house and wave at them through the windows," he says.

"It's been pretty tough not seeing them. We are a technology literate family and have been keeping in touch through Facetime and we also have a family Whatsapp group which is red hot at the moment.

"My sons in Paris and Madrid and their families are also on lockdown and it's good to be able to talk to them and see them by video and know they are safe."

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Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Working out: Jack doing his different exercises at home

Both Jack and Eileen enjoyed active lifestyles before the strict new rules came into place a couple of weeks ago.

They played golf twice a week, met up with friends at least two evenings every week, went to Pilates classes twice a week and had regular lunch dates with their pals.

Jack, who played rugby for the YMCA for many years and then took up running, has endured a remarkable number of serious sports injuries which is why he took up Pilates eight years ago.

He has had a hip replacement, two spinal nerve root injections and surgeries on his shoulder, ankle and two knees.

"I joke that as a young man I kept fit doing exercise and playing sport - and most of the injuries I've had were because of that sport," he says.

"I also played some Gaelic football and took up road running to half marathon level but my ankles weren't too keen on it."

While active sports are out, Jack found a new way to keep fit through Pilates and his beloved golf which until lockdown he still played twice a week.

Now confined to the house, he has come up with other ways to keep his mind and body active.

"When I had to stop running I needed something to keep me fit and Pilates was perfect for me," he reveals. "I do two classes - one mat class and one with a reformer machine, which is a pulley type of thing, and which I am getting delivered to my home so that I can continue with those classes here in the house.

"I think especially because of my surgeries and injuries I need to keep fit and keep my muscles strong which is what Pilates helps me to do.

"I can still play golf as well as I could back in my 30s because I have kept myself supple and strong.

"Going to Pilates is good for you mentally, too, especially when you retire, because you get to meet other people in the class and for me it's as much about that social aspect as the benefits of the exercise."

Jack has found taking part in the classes at home, with instruction on the internet, an excellent substitute.

"Putting the classes online is absolutely brilliant," he says.

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Handy advice: Rachel Saligari

Handy advice: Rachel Saligari

Brian Thompson

Handy advice: Rachel Saligari

"The teacher can see you and correct you if you are doing it wrong and we can also see the other people in the class in little pictures on the side of the screen. We all have a chat at the end and it is great for anyone who is self isolating to be able to see and talk to other people.

"I find myself really looking forward to the classes."

As well as Pilates, Jack has been keeping busy in his garden at home and in the kitchen, cooking new dishes.

"I grow vegetables and we usually go away to Portugal for three weeks in May and spend the next three weeks weeding, so this year I will be on top of that," he says. "It's a chance to get out in the fresh air.

"Anyone can grow vegetables - even if they don't have a garden.

"You can grow vegetables in small pots and some of them sprout fairly quickly.

"I am also enjoying cooking and baking. I always had the theory that if you can read you can cook, and this is the time to do it. I think getting through this time is about keeping your mind and body as busy as you can."

Everyone, from beginners to the more advanced, are invited to keep fit and make friends during the lockdown through the Active Health online Pilates classes.

Jack's daughter Rachel, who is managing director, says: "We have closed our physical doors and opened our virtual service.

"While our hugely popular Pilates and reformer Pilates classes have had to be put on hold for the foreseeable, they are now online - and attendance is up - we have had people tune in from as far as Australia!

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Jack McIlduff

Jack McIlduff

Jack McIlduff

"We have also rented out all of our 12 Pilates reformer machines so as clients can use them in their own home, with our online guidance.

"Our Pilates classes have been running for many years and are attended by people from the age of 16 up to 75, and they have become so important to our clients for social, health and wellbeing reasons.

"We also have a staff of more than 11 across the two branches so it is both our commitment to them and our clients to try and keep the business going as much as possible, just when people need exercise and health advice most."

The Pilates classes run twice daily - one in the morning and one in the evening.

As demand increases, the company will increase the number of classes and at present there are still 15 spaces at 9.30am and the same at 6.30pm.

There will also be one free live-streamed class per week for anyone anywhere in the world via Facebook.

Rachel adds: "There has never been a more critical time to ensure we stay active, both for our physical and our all-important mental health, and that has been our thinking behind this.

"We advise people to get into a routine as early into confinement as possible.

"A 60-minute class per day will go a long way in helping you stay positive and focused throughout this time.

"I encourage anyone of any age to get on board and try one of our free taster classes which they can do by downloading our app Active Health Solutions, visiting our website or our Facebook page and to start to integrate Pilates into their day for the good of their mind, body and soul."

The company is also continuing its physiotherapy and podiatry consultations online.

For more information on classes and availability visit www.activehealthsolutions.co.uk

Rachel Saligari’s top tips to help the older generation stay fit during current crisis

The important things to include in your exercise plan as you get older are strength, mobility and balance.

Strength

Resistance exercise helps to keep your muscles from atrophy (wasting away) as you age. After we turn 30, we start to lose bone and muscle mass.

This can lead to a loss of balance with a potential for falls or difficulty and/or pain when climbing stairs. By strength training you'll be able to continue to climb stairs, play sports, and keep up with your kids.

Great exercises for strength:

  • Squats or stand up/sit down
  • Raise your arms out to the side
  • Bicep curls
  • Push-ups' against a wall: stand facing a wall and use your arms to lean into the wall and then push yourself away from it again

Mobility

A daily mobility routine will not only improve body stiffness but also will set us up to be able to handle all that life throws at us.

Research has shown that those who can get up and down from the floor have a longer life expectancy. Good types of exercise are Pilates, yoga or tai chi.

Great exercises for mobility:

Pull your foot up to your bum and hold

  • Touch your toes
  • Bend over to the side and reach overhead
  • Clasp your hands behind your back and raise them up
  • Sit in a chair and twist around to hold on to the back of the chair

Balance

Building muscle mass and focusing on having better balance can help reduce the risk of falls and broken bones.

Great exercises for balance:

  • Use the back of a chair for support if needed
  • Standing with your feet together, rise up on your tiptoes and lower yourself down again
  • Stand on one leg and hold for as long as you can
  • Sitting in a chair, reach your arms forward and stand up without holding on

Belfast Telegraph