The world’s older adult population is growing. By 2050, there’ll be 1.5 billion people aged 65+ across the world.
Analysis by the National Records of Scotland suggest the number of people aged 75+ in Scotland will rise by a whopping 82 per cent by 2035. Composer and pianist Eubie Blake once said “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
What helps us achieve good health in later life? A combination of many different things. However, one thing that certainly has a significant impact is being physically activity.
The Edinburgh Ageing Well Project provides community-based physical activities that are accessible, developed with and through local older adults, and provided at a low cost. Run by Edinburgh Leisure and funded by NHS Lothian, the project provides an array of physical activities, encouraging and supporting over 400 older adults to be more physically active each week. The volunteers who lead the activity sessions are all older adults themselves. One volunteer, Bette Bell, is 86 years young and delivers seated exercise sessions and short health walks. She is simply inspiring.
Physical inactivity contributes to 2,500 deaths in Scotland and costs the NHS around £91 million per year. No wonder it is a major public health priority. The Scottish Government has set physical activity guidelines with the objective of making Scots active for life. They have, however, identified the older adult population as furthest away from meeting these guidelines.
We should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week, along with strength exercises on two or more days that work all major muscles. This might sound a lot, but moving can be fun. So build physical activity into your routine. It can be mowing the lawn, walking, or taking part in a fitness class. If it raises the heart rate and makes you feel warmer, it counts.
Any muscle-strengthening activities, including carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries, or activities that involve stepping and jumping such as dancing or digging the garden, are great.
Sedentary behaviour is an independent risk factor for ill health. Sitting is officially bad for us. Break up long periods of sitting with light activity, or if you do sit for a period, keep those feet moving – even gentle toe-to-heel exercises whilst watching TV can strengthen ankles and calf muscles.
The benefits for an older adult, physically active on a daily basis, are plenty, including maintaining cognitive function and the ability to carry out daily living activities, reduce cardiovascular risk, improve mood and self-esteem and reduce risk of falls.
Physical activity is better than any pill – it might be tougher to take at first, and it certainly takes longer to “swallow”, but if you find the right type of activity for you, it’s certainly far more enjoyable. Whatever activity you choose, there are only three rules: 1) Do it. 2) Keep doing it. 3) Have fun.
For some, becoming active can seem daunting. At Ageing Well, the trained volunteers welcome newcomers, introducing them to other group members, ensuring they feel welcome and involved from the start. Ageing Well activities include walking, seated exercise, dancing, new age kurling (curling but without the ice), singing, cycle skills, photography, swim buddy, boccia and gardening. Many participants have been attending Ageing Well sessions for a number of years and inform us that it is the social interaction and volunteer support that keeps them attending.
A number of the activities above will be available at an older adults’ celebration event taking place at Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Sports Centre on Thursday 13 October, 12.30-4pm. It will include information stalls and activity demonstrations and a tea dance. It’s a free event. Just turn up and take your first step to leading a more active lifestyle and have fun whilst you’re at it.
For further information about Edinburgh Leisure’s Ageing Well Project or the celebration event, contact 0131 458 2183, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.edinburghleisure.co.uk Anita Jefferies is Ageing Well Manager at Edinburgh Leisure