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Activity and health
Researchers at King’s College London have released a dramatic report on a study of the health of older people. The 84 male and 41 female cyclists who were chosen to study were fit and regular exercisers, aged between 55 and 79. The researchers found that there was little difference between the health of the oldest and youngest people in the group.
So, a person nearly 80 years old could be as fit as one in their 50s. After studying their resting heart rate, skeletal mass, breathing ability and muscle density the study concluded that “... it is not ageing itself which brings about poor function and frailty, but the fact that people have stopped exercising and are no longer active”.
The gateway to a healthy lifestyle
Activities can also bring opportunities for other general measures for good health. For example, Age UK has identified regular activity and control of obesity as a major factor in reducing the risk of developing dementia. Activities are also the gateway to other elements of a healthy lifestyle: engaging with others socially, having a purpose in life and keeping our brain active. It is easy to see how engaging in a sport, at whatever age, is likely to help control weight, encourage engagement with other participants, help to set objectives in the activity and keep the mind focused on physical improvement.
Experts point out that dementia, frailty and ill health don't just happen to you. This study shows that we can all do things to prevent illness and to dramatically slow down decline as we age. It is the absence of activity which brings frailty and weakness, not the other way round. Telling people to take it easy because of their age is a recipe for ill health! (Age UK research)
A cheap and effective way of improving health
In providing support services, whether in the community or residential care, there are lessons for us all in these studies. Activity brings a meaningful, socially engaged and healthy lifestyle, provided we eat and drink sensibly. So I believe the most important factor in promoting wellness is to strongly encourage and support activities in people's areas of interest. The result of this is often very clear in visiting a care facility where people are active, cheerful and outgoing as opposed to the classic image of people sitting around in comfortable armchairs, yet having little interest in life.
Activity is a relatively cheap and highly effective way of improving health in these times of reduced budgets and declining services. Let's do more of it!