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Call for nurses to help keep older people active and healthy

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Physical activity guidelines for a healthy life are not being met by the general population, with older people among the least likely to score well, a charity has warned.

The Centre for Better Ageing has called on health professionals to do more when it comes to planning and supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing in later life. For example, it highlighted that undertaking strength and balance activity should become a regular part of routine physical activity.

“It’s disappointing the guidelines aren’t being met by older people”

Jess Kuehne

The chief medical officer’s guidelines – titled Start Active, Stay Active and published in 2011 – encourage people to undertake weekly aerobic exercise such as walking, running or cycling.

As well as sitting less, people need to do at least two additional weekly activities – such as carrying heavy shopping and Tai Chi – to strengthen muscles and improve balance.

The charity said that new statistics published this week by NHS Digital revealed that only 21% of those aged between 55 and 64 were meeting aerobic and muscle strengthening targets.

As people get older, the numbers drop even further with only 6% of those aged 75 and over meeting the recommendations in national public health guidelines, said the charity.

Muscle strengthening, in particular, could help to prevent falls among older people, responsible for an estimated 95% of all hip fractures, which cost the NHS over £1bn every year, it noted.

“We need health professionals and commissioners to do more”

Jess Kuehne

It also said the statistics released this week also showed there has been no significant increase in the number of people reaching these physical activity measures since previous data published in 2012.

The charity highlighted that low muscle strength and poor balance were key risk factors in later life for having a fall. In the last two years in England, over a quarter of adults over the age of 60 and almost 40% of adults over the age of 80 reported a fall, it noted.

The Centre for Ageing Better said it was currently undertaking a review of how muscle strengthening and balance activities in particular could improve people’s long-term health and wellbeing.

It said it believed more needed to be done to raise awareness of the guidelines, given physical activity to improve strength and balance could prevent falls and help older people stay living independently.

Jess Kuehne, programme lead for physical activity at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Undertaking regular physical activity is essential for a healthy later life.

“We know that, in particular, activity to strengthen muscles and improve balance can have a significant impact on the quality of life as we get older and reduce the risk of falls,” she said.

Centre for Better Ageing

Call for nurses to help keep elderly active and healthy

Jess Kuehne

“So it’s disappointing the guidelines aren’t being met by older people and appear to have remained stagnant over the past few years despite being promoted by the CMO,” said Ms Kuehne.

“We need health professionals and commissioners to do more when it comes to planning and supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing in later life so that undertaking strength and balance activity becomes a regular part of people’s routine physical activity,” she said.

An expert review, commissioned by the centre in partnership with Public Health England has been launched to increase understanding and awareness of how activities to improve muscle strength and balance can improve people’s long-term health and wellbeing, including reducing the risk of falls.

It will culminate in a series of practical recommendations for the public, practitioners and policy makers on what physical activities are most effective in increasing strength and balance.

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