TESS Megan has a packed schedule. Tonight she is out with friends, tomorrow she has her weekly exercise class. Right now she is enjoying a quick bite. She is busy, busy, busy.
It sounds like a familiar 21st century lifestyle – which it is, until you consider the fact that Tess is an 85-year-old grandmother and is in the fast lane at a stage when, according to lazy stereotypes, she should be sitting quietly in the corner tending her knitting.
She attributes her good health and appetite for living to a dedicated exercise regime.
"I exercise every week," she explains. "I attend a class for those aged 55 and over and you can go at whatever pace you are comfortable. It's all about staying flexible and feeling good."
The course, conducted by the Fit For Life organisation, is at St Kevin's parish centre on South Circular Road, Dublin (for which Tess is public relations officer). It is not advertised as a guarantee of rude health in old age – but Tess certainly feels the benefit.
"It is good for your circulation," she nods. "If you ever experience cramps in your legs, it is extremely beneficial. You can practice the exercises at home too. You do things like touching heel to toe. Or you can stand at the back of a chair and stretch. It keeps you fit. You feel wonderful as a result. If I ever miss a class, I feel it through the week that follows."
Fit for Life holds classes throughout the country. The regime encompasses a variety of routines. Usually, classes start with a warm-up, designed to increase circulation.
Typically it will involve jogging or marching on the spot. Next, the instructor moves to the joints – the wrists, shoulders and knees.
This is followed by a course of strength training, utilising weights or elastic resistance bands. These help maintain strength, which is crucial for older people.
Following that comes aerobic exercise, which raises heart rate and can take the form of walking, side-stepping, standing and sitting.
One of the most crucial parts of the programme is balance and fall-prevention training.
The goal is to strengthen lower limbs and engage in activities that challenge balance, such as standing on one leg, standing with feet together and eyes closed and negotiating 'obstacle' courses that mimic everyday terrain.
Tess speaks enthusiastically about Fit for Life. She was always slender and, though never fanatical about exercise, kept herself trim.
"I wasn't too skinny but never overweight," says Tess, who is originally from Kilkenny but whose Dublin accent attests to a lifetime in the capital. "I rode a bike when I was young. And I danced a lot. There's nothing better than dancing for exercise."
She discovered Fit for Life while passing St Kevin's, which is near her home in the Leonard's Corner neighbourhood of Dublin. "Out of curiosity, one day I asked what they did. I've been going back every since. You meet new people, you make friends, it is fantastic."
"Research in ageing up until 1980s was all about life expectancy, how long we are going to live," says Fit for Life managing director Mark Sweeney. "Since the early '90s focus has shifted to how to ensure people live with greater quality of life, which means remaining independent and enjoying life for as long as possible, rather than living longer and being dependent on others."
He adds: "Recent studies into physical activity and ageing show that prescribed exercise can be as effective, or sometimes more effective, than prescribed drugs. A good example is the importance of exercising to control blood pressure and blood sugar levels. We would always take our medicine, why would we not always exercise?"
The buzz phrase nowadays is 'fitness reserve', which means you are in sufficient shape so as not to be worn out by everyday tasks.
Mr Sweeney says: "By increasing your reserve, you can really think about doing the things that you want to do and not just get through the day and have no energy to do anything else."
As well as being good for your body, regular exercise helps the mind to stay young. "Physical activity is directly associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline – it can delay and or reduce the possibility of Alzheimer's and related dementia."
One of the best things about the classes, says Tess, is the variety.
"It is nice that we have different routines. They might say, 'today we do the arms – or we'll do the shoulders'. You may do some sitting, some standing. I'm 85 and I find it helps keep you going. It is enormously useful. As a matter of fact, I would say it is wonderful."