'It's given me new life': The over-75s shaking off loneliness by getting active

Older people in Wales are being encouraged to take part in free activity sessions in a bid to ease the "tremendous toll" of social isolation and loneliness.

Run by national charity Re-engage, the hour-long sessions for people aged 75 and over include gentle activities such as chair yoga, tai chi or skittles.

Welsh Government figures from 2019 reveal just under half of people aged 75 and over in Wales report feeling lonely sometimes.

Meanwhile, more than one in 10 older people aged 60 and over say they are constantly lonely.

John Whittaker, 79, spent more than half a century married to his wife Patricia. When she died at the start of the pandemic, he faced more time alone than ever before.

"For 12 months I was basically on my own," he said.

"We haven't got immediate family, so I had no one. I just isolated for 12 months; got very self-conscious about things - didn't think I'd ever meet people again.

"It was a nightmare, it really was a nightmare, because you had no one to physically talk to."

Desperately searching for a lifeline, John joined a free social activity group in Newport.

"It's just given me confidence again," he added.

"I now go out to the shops again, which I didn't do before. I've been to a rugby match - I hadn't been to one for 50 years.

"Re-engage has given me back the confidence to mix with people again. It's given me a whole new life again."

The hour-long sessions include gentle activities such as chair yoga, tai chi or bowls. Credit: Re-engage

Re-engage says loneliness have a very damaging effect on physical health and mental wellbeing, as well as being a miserable experience.

Figures show lonely people with poor social connections are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression.

The charity says it is committed to ending loneliness in older people and believes no-one is too old to make friends or enjoy social interaction.

Project manager Gavin Stewart said: “Our groups are fun, friendly, completely free and provide an opportunity to stay physically active.

“Social isolation and loneliness can take a tremendous toll on both mental and physical health, so we hope our groups will give older people something to look forward to and an opportunity to connect with others.”

The activity groups, funded by the Welsh Government, take place in local community spaces on a fortnightly or monthly basis.

People are encouraged to refer an older person who could benefit, or join a group themselves if they are 75 or over.

The charity is also looking for volunteers to help with the sessions as the programme expands to other parts of Wales. Anyone interested should contact the charity on 02922 801 802 or email Gavin.Stewart@reengage.org.uk .

Mr Stewart added: “Volunteering for Re-engage can be an incredibly rewarding experience and volunteers receive support and training to help them get the most out of their role.”