The cost of inactivity as we age

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Reimagining Ageing

I recently read an article by UK Active, which I found really interesting. A new report by Sheffield Hallum University, UK Active and DataHub, ‘Reimagining ageing’ reveals how we should become more active as we age, and not less.

Reimaging Ageing

Ageing itself does not cause health problems

I have to confess that I once believed it was just ageing itself that caused health problems, but it is not so.

Dementia, disability and frailty are increasing as our population begins to age. It used to be assumed that these conditions were related to the ageing process itself; it is now known that they are not down to the biological processes of ageing itself, but loss of fitness and negative beliefs about getting older. Ageing itself does not cause problems until our mid 90’s.

Of course, it isn’t quite as simple as this. An element of luck and genetics comes into play. Some diseases are hereditary, some environmental or work related, some ‘acquired’. Health and wellbeing can be affected by how and where we live. People consequently will not age the same or at the same rate.

Being fitter makes you more resilient

Loss of independence, function and resilience once thought to be due to the ageing process can be dramatically influenced by activity: physical, mental and social.

According to UK Active “We know, for instance, that people who are in the top quartile of fitness for their age group have the same ability level as people of average fitness ten years younger.” They go on to say that “we can reverse the decline in health so often associated with growing older, and increase ability, by closing the fitness gap”. They also state that by being fitter we will be more resilient and better able to cope with life’s stresses such as illnesses and falls.

In support of this, for my MSc I investigated the phenomena of falling among adults aged over 75. Findings from my study suggested that being physically active did improve physical activity self-efficacy and confidence and could have a positive concomitant effect on the outcome of falls. Despite the perceived lack of control in respect to falls, this did not generally inhibit physical activity behaviour.

As Nat ‘King’ Cole and George Shearing once sang:

“Nothing’s impossible I have found
For when my chin is on the ground
I pick myself up, dust myself off, start all over again
Don’t lose your confidence if you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again”

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Physical health and Mental Wellbeing

Age UK (‘Index of Wellbeing in later Life’) also found that one of the major influencers of wellbeing in those aged over 50 was taking part in physical activity. “Maintaining broader physical health and mental wellbeing directly contributed a further 10% toward feelings of wellbeing.” Together with this were also such things as the need to be in good health, have social connections and be financially secure.

What is an ‘older adult’

Interestingly there is no agreed definition of ‘older adult’. The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for physical activity define an older adult as someone aged 65 or older. Sport England’s active ageing work focuses on individuals aged 55 and up, and the NHS Health Check scheme is offered at only 40 years of age.

By 2030 the number of people in the UK aged 60 or over is estimated to increase to 20 million – up 31% from today’s figure of 15.3 million – and expected to climb higher still in the years after. Over the same period, average life expectancy for those aged over 65 is expected to increase by close to two years.

In the next 20 years one in seven of us will be over 75 years of age.

Inactivity and sedentary behaviour

According to UK Active “Approximately 38% cent of people aged over 55 are classed as “inactive”, meaning they fail to achieve half an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Sedentary behaviour also becomes more prevalent with age: close to half of people aged 75 – 84 are inactive (48%), alongside nearly three quarters (71%) of people aged 85+. This is compared to less than a third of the population as a whole.”

Barriers to activity

There are many real and perceived barriers to being physically active. Some older adults worry about their ability, have lack of confidence, or may have no access to local facilities for example. Some may have long-term health conditions or disabilities. According to the many minority ethnic groups have lower rates of physical activity. Health matters: getting every adult active every day

Whatever the reason for this inactivity, it will have detrimental results on one’s health and wellbeing. Inactivity will increase the chances of up to 20 long-term health conditions such as stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, dementia and heart problems.

It does not matter what age you are, what your physical limitations may be or what long-term health conditions you may have; there is normally an activity suitable. Always get the ‘ok’ from your GP or healthcare provider before you start on any new fitness programme though.

See a Personal Trainer, one qualified in giving you a safe and individualised plan. Join a local group or club. Ask around locally and find out what’s out there.

“Increasing physical activity has the potential to improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole”.

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2 thoughts on “The cost of inactivity as we age

  1. This feels very relevant to me, especially as I have increased my exercise levels and am definitely feeling the benefits. Mentally I feel more relaxed and less stressed, physically I feel capable of doing more. Win win!! Good information to pass on to my patients too!


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