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Staying active as you get older

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The World Health Organisation has found that to age healthily we need to have opportunities to live and do the things we value and cherish because this improves our wellbeing in older age.

Together with that, scientific evidence shows that one of the best ways to promote healthy ageing is to keep physically active at all ages. January is the time when many of us typically review this; we’ll do things like reviewing what we eat, taking up a ‘dry’ January and, in a normal year, a rush to join gyms.

Activity and healthy ageing

Being active at all ages can help with healthy ageing because stronger muscles and improved stamina helps reduce the risk of falling, maintains healthy bones and joints, and increases the likelihood we can live independently.

Physical activity also reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes. And, as has become obvious during the last year,  reduces anxiety and depression, and improves our mood and well-being.

Low-income families are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of staying at home, as we all are doing during the latest lockdown, as they’ll often have sub-standard accommodations and more confined spaces, making it difficult to engage in physical activity.

Struggling industries

A loss of physical fitness has also been observed in older adults who were advised to self-isolate or who were too afraid to leave their homes.  COVID-19 has hit the leisure industry particularly hard, with exercise and fitness centres closed or having to offer reduced services.  It remains an ongoing threat to the viability of gyms and exercise businesses especially those focused on older people.

There are positives

It’s not all doom and gloom though because there is evidence that in the face of forced isolation, there is rising acceptance of video conversations and much easier access to physical exercise opportunities.  Those fitness companies that offer online programs have seen significant growth.

Do something you enjoy

The NHS has a series of physical activity recommendations for different age groups and, vitally, these recommendations highlight the need for personal choice.  I used to run when I was in my 20s, for example. But I’ve had to adjust my aspirations as having tried to run recently during the COVID-19 lockdown it was clear to me that I was struggling and quite frankly hated it.  I started walking as an alternative and find it so much more enjoyable. And that’s key, here.

Sustainable physical activity means finding something to do that you enjoy.

With the latest lockdown and gyms, sports centres and team sports remaining off limits for many, the good news is that It does not have to be strenuous physical activity to achieve the health benefits we want and need.  Daily moderate activity such as walking, gardening, are just as effective.

Help them to help you

The COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have considerable impact on our ability to engage in physical activity.  Clearly, there is a role for policymakers, researchers, and innovative businesses across health and care services, public health, schools, and civic society to work collaboratively respecting different social groups to:

  • support physical activity at home and within our immediate neighbourhoods
  • develop and enhance access to online resources to facilitate physical activities
  • develop low-tech and no-tech solutions to support those who might otherwise be digitally excluded

Our role as individuals is to engage with these services and organisations to inform guidelines, standards, research, innovation, and most important the resources themselves once developed so that we can realise the benefits of physical fitness as we get older.

Don’t aim to tackle a marathon! – instead, pick up your garden fork or walking shoes, find a Yoga, Pilates or dance class on Facebook, or join the kids’ online PE lessons, and engage in something you enjoy.


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