Exercise can reduce need for care of older people, says study
A concerted effort to encourage older people to keep active can help them live more independently and reduce the need for social care, a new report says today.
The prevailing attitude that exercise is for young people while older people should be encouraged to relax "needs to be challenged", according to the study in the 'British Medical Journal'.
The message has particular relevance for Ireland's over-50s as two-thirds admit they are taking only low-to-moderate levels of exercise.
Only one-third say they are clocking up high levels of activity.
Middle-aged and older people who are not active enough are twice as likely to have depressive symptoms when compared to those who are more energetic.
Today's report, which was led by Eastbourne District General Hospital in England, said that regardless of age and underlying health problems, "exercise can reverse the decline and keep a person above the threshold for needing increased care".
The report's authors argued that the effects of ageing are often confused with a loss of fitness.
And it is actually a loss of fitness that increases the risk of needing social care.
Figures show that a quarter of women and 20pc of men in the UK report doing no activity at all in a week, let alone the recommended minimum of 150 minutes to maintain health.
The report's lead author, consultant orthopaedic surgeon Scarlett McNally, said the evidence showed that middle-aged and older people "can increase their fitness level to that of an average person a decade younger by regular exercise".
Also there is growing evidence that fitness improves mental ability and reduces the risk of dementia.
They also call for changes to environments and expectations "to make exercise possible for middle-aged and older people, including open spaces and facilities for active travel".
Healthcare professionals need better training and support to recommend physical activity like a medicine, say the authors.
For example, older patients admitted to hospital spend over 80pc of their time in a bed.
And more than 60pc reduce their mobility.
Yet this can be tackled by a focus on rehabilitation and support to maintain activity by health care professionals as well as family and friends.
"We need individuals to understand their role in reducing demand for social care by being active," said the study.
"The gap between the best possible level of ability and actual ability can be reduced at any age, no matter how many long-term conditions the person may have," it added.
The increase in the level of ability "may not only restore the person to the ability they enjoyed 10 years earlier, it may make the crucial difference between living well at home or being dependent on social care or residential care".