This Group Was Made for Walking

Follow in the footsteps of the Pink Ladies and enjoy the benefits of Arthritis Ireland’s Walking Groups

WHEN an arthritis flare-up leaves you feeling sore, stiff and miserable, the Pink Ladiestemptation to curl up on the couch can be hard to resist.

But as the members of Arthritis Ireland walking groups have discovered, moving really is the best medicine.

Elaine Cullen certainly agrees. The 32-year-old is a proud member of the Wexford branch’s “Pink Ladies”, one of the network’s most vibrant and committed groups.

Having been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and osteoporosis five years ago, Elaine’s condition became so severe that she struggled to walk and was even forced to give up work.

However, things changed when she joined the Wexford Walking Group, a development she describes as “like taking a magic pill”.

“I couldn’t believe the difference”, she explained. “Walking is like my treatment. I keep telling myself that diabetics take insulin, whereas I take exercise. When I started in the group I was a very slow walker but I kept it up and gradually I was able to do more. The leaders are fantastic. Sometimes the pain can be so bad that my mood is affected but the group is a great support and cheers me up. Even if I’m too sore to walk, I’ll still go down there for the tea and the chat!”

Yes, while walking is the main pursuit, the post-walk bonding over a cuppa is an equally effective tonic.

Pink Ladies Wexford BranchIt’s now three years since Rosaleen Finnigan and Phil O’Mahoney set up the group. And both women know all about the importance of keeping active thanks to personal experience.

Rosaleen, 66, copes with an unenviable combination of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis as well as fibromyalgia. And she remembers only too well the shock of her diagnosis. “The worst thing was the isolation. I had to give up work and depression set in. My husband would get me out of bed in the morning, put me in a chair and I’d be there when he came home”, she said.

Determined to manage her condition – and to help others do the same – Rosaleen got involved in the Wexford branch of Arthritis Ireland and trained alongside Phil as a walking group leader.

Hail, rain or shine, the determined ladies now meet every Wednesday evening at the River Bank Hotel in Wexford where they embark on a 40-minute walk.

Rosaleen explained: “We always make sure to warm up beforehand and do stretches to cool down. If it’s extremely wet out, we’ll do exercises to music.  We see the results very quickly and see the difference that walking makes to people’s wellbeing. We all have a laugh, we talk and it’s great fun, and it’s great to have support from people who understand your condition. Of course, anything said within the group stays within the group.”

As they cater for walkers of all abilities, co-founder Phil insists there’s “no entry criteria”.

The 59-year-old, who has rheumatoid arthritis, explained: “We welcome  people of all ages and all abilities. The worst exercise is no exercise and even if you’ve had a bad day, a walk can really help. If someone has bad pain and has to turn back after five minutes, that’s still progress and one of the leaders will always turn back with them. No matter what your pace, you’re never alone because we have a leader at the front, middle and back of the group. Organisation is important too and I always carry a first aid kit as well as spare hats, scarves and gloves so we’re prepared.”

The group’s weekly route varies depending on daylight, but its philosophy of safe and healthy exercise in a supportive atmosphere remains the same.

Rosaleen Finnigan

Rosaleen Finnigan & Phil O’Mahoney

And the enthusiastic members are all united in their belief that it’s a case of reaping what you sow.

As Phil pointed out: “It’s a big commitment but I really look forward to it. I feel it’s important to give something back and you learn so much by being with other people who have the condition. I’d feel I was letting people down if I didn’t go along on a Wednesday night, yet I’d be lost without it because it’s a huge support to me as well.”

Arthritis Ireland’s network of arthritis-friendly walking groups spans right across the country. Find out where your local group is by clicking here or call 1890 252 846.

Would you like the chance to lead your own walking group? Find out how here.