The Cost of Later Life Inactivity and Current Thinking on Prevention

As we get older we are more likely to slow down and become less active. This tendency towards a sedentary lifestyle might be caused by gaining weight, joint pain, the fear of injury from falling or chronic health issues. Or, it could be that we think that when we reach a certain age, we should be slowing down and subsequently stop exercising. However, this is exactly the time when we should be exercising regularly.

According to Gov.UK statistics published in January 2019, physical inactivity percentages in the older population were as follows:
  • age 55 to 64 = 27%
  • age 65 to 74 = 29%
  • age 75 and over = 52%
This amounts to 6.4 million people, more than half of the inactive people in England. The definition of physical inactivity is less than 30 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity.

Consequently, later life physical inactivity is placing a great strain on the country and, as reported in an Anchor Hanover report in association with Demos, is currently costing the NHS close to £100m annually which, if left unaddressed will amount to a total cost of £1.3bn in real terms by 2030. The report also states that, “Physical inactivity was responsible for 23,881 avoidable deaths in 2017”.

Indeed, the reasons people stop exercising (as listed above) are the very reasons they should be exercising. For example:
  • increase in the percentage of body fat
  • decrease in lean body mass and skeletal muscle atrophy (known as sarcopenia)
  • balance issues
  • increasing risk of chronic diseases
  • mental health issues including diminishing cognitive function and poor social well-being
So how do we help the older population get moving and overcome these barriers. Sport England have just invested £10 million of National Lottery funding to do just that, piloting over 20 projects including:
  • physical activity sessions in sheltered housing
  • seated gymnastics
  • walking football
  • ESACAPE Pain - physiotherapists show people how to manage joint pain with exercise
  • OOOMPH! - fun and inclusive exercise sessions
  • 10 Today - 10 minute exercise session broadcast on radio and online every day
Most of these projects are tackling the problem of complete inactivity in older people and introducing a small amount of activity will have a beneficial effect both physically and mentally.

“It’s not just about the physical benefits as this project aims to bring people together to reduce loneliness, strengthen mental health and resilience to enable more adults to lead happier and healthier lives.”
Mike Diaper, Executive Director of Sport England

Given some level of activity anyone can then begin to focus their exercise programme on the things which will improve physical well-being with age: cardiovascular work outs, strength training, flexibility and balance exercises.
  • Regular cardiovascular workouts should make you feel a little out of breath to get the heart pumping faster. The result overtime will give you more energy to tackle day to day activities like cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, walking, etc.
  • Strength training exercises using either body weight or free weights or resistance training with elastic bands will help build muscle strength and prevent bone loss. Building muscular strength is an important factor in remaining independent as it helps to make daily activities easier to accomplish such as standing up and sitting down, lifting objects, opening a jar, etc.
  • Exercises to increase flexibility, whether stationary or dynamic (while moving), are also important to maintain the full range of motion in the joints and reduce the likelihood of injury. Being flexible helps with daily activities such as getting dressing, moving your head to the right and left while driving, washing yourself, etc.
  • Exercises for balance and posture will help whether you are standing still or walking around and is also important to reduce the risk and fear of falling.
So, as we get older, instead of slowing down and grinding to a halt, try to stay physically active. Not only will it give you more energy and is good for brain function and mood, but it will protect your heart against cardiovascular disease, will help you manage your weight, and increase leg and core strength, thereby, helping to prevent injury from falls. If you put this all together not only will you increase longevity but also increase your years of independence.

As Mike Diaper said above, it will also provide avenues for social interaction and can prevent loneliness. Watch out for future posts showcasing tahdah clients who can provide a route into physical activity for all.