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New report highlights need to boost health of older adults

A new report into the health of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic has been launched by The Physiological Society and Centre for Ageing Better.

The report features the results from a YouGov survey that highlights significant reductions in levels of physical activity among older adults and recommends a ‘National Post-Pandemic Resilience Plan’ to respond to this.

Findings from our YouGov survey include:

  • 26% of over-50s are doing less exercise than before the pandemic. This is particularly acute in the over 75s.
  • The top reasons given by over-50s for doing less physical activity are lack of motivation (44%), and that they are out of the habit of being physically active or socialising in person (42%).
  • Different age groups reported different preferred actions to help them increase their physical activity levels​:
    • 50-59-year-olds preferred activity monitors​ (such as FitBits)
    • 60-74-year-olds preferred social activity groups​
    • Those aged 75+ preferred tailored advice from a healthcare professional​

​The report calls for public health agencies across the UK to launch a National Post-Pandemic Resilience Programme​. This would be a joined-up system of support to provide over 50s with tailored advice and guidance on how to improve health post-pandemic​. The aim would be to not only return over 50s to their pre-pandemic physical activity levels, but encourage greater long-term levels of activity​.

A National Post-Pandemic Resilience Programme should include:​

  1. A programme of physical activity to increase physical resilience, focusing on older people with high-risk  factors  such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sarcopenia​.
  2. ​A specific focus on increasing physical activity of people in their 50s to prevent future frailty​.
  3. ​”At home” physical activity options, including digital platforms and online communities, as well as utilising national broadcasters.
  4. ​Clear guidance about the importance of a healthy balanced diet​.
  5. ​Steps to embed behaviour change​ to build new habits.

Speaking at the launch, report co-chair Professor Paul Greenhaff (The Physiological Society and the University of Nottingham, UK), said:

“Our survey shows that over a quarter of over-50s are less physically active than pre-pandemic. Given the role of physical activity in maintaining health, this is a cause for real concern and it is likely that the health of older adults will have diminished as a direct consequence of the restrictions necessary to protect people from COVID-19.

“For some older adults, a reduction in physical activity is likely to accelerate frailty development, perhaps tilting the balance between just being able to do something, such as rising from a chair, and not. This has significant consequences for independent living and healthcare provision.”

Fellow co-chair Dr Alison Giles (formerly of Centre for Ageing Better) added:

“It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the physical activity levels of older people which is worrying given that a high proportion of older adults were already inactive before the pandemic. COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for public health interventions to build a more resilient, healthier nation.

“Our proposed National Post-Pandemic Resilience Programme would be a joined-up system of support to provide older people with tailored advice and guidance on how to safely increase their activity levels post-pandemic. We want to see evidence-based behaviour change approaches and a variety of activities on offer to support older adults adopt physically active lives for the long-term.”

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