The World Health Organisation has identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Although by no means limited to older adults, a decline in physical activity is associated with aging. There are currently 11.4 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and life expectancy is predicted to continue to rise. As of 2009 only 20% of adults in England aged 65-74 met the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation for physical activity and this fell to just 7% of those aged over 75 (British Heart Foundation, 2015).
What are the health benefits of physical activity for older adults?
There tends to be a strong emphasis on the role of physical activity in reducing the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. In addition to these health benefits it is also valuable to focus on the ways in which increased physical activity can help older adults maintain their independence, both physically and socially. Deterioration of functional capacity is an inevitable part of the aging process, and even amongst healthy active people, strength, endurance, balance, bone density and flexibility are all lost at a rate of about 10% per decade (British Heart Foundation, 2015). Even small amounts of physical activity, however, can help older adults remain mobile and able to perform everyday tasks. The mental health benefits of physical activity are also worth emphasising; regular physical activity can potentially slow down the mental decline associated with dementia, and boost the mood. This is significant as depression currently affects 1 in 5 older people living in the community and this statistic is even higher for those who live in care homes. Physical activity can help general wellbeing through aiding restful sleep and promoting a healthy appetite and, when incorporated into a group session, physical activity can be highly sociable too.
British Heart Foundation (2015) ‘Interpreting the physical activity guidelines for frailer older people’ [online], Available from: http://www.bhfactive.org.uk/older-adults-resources-and-publications-item/39/430/index.html (Accessed 8th July 2015).
World Health Organisation (2015) ‘Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health’ [online], Available from: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/pa/en/ (Accessed 8th July 2015).