We all know elderly people who litter conversations with “before the war” and “after the war”. In years to come, generations will talk about “before Covid” and “after Covid”. What we do now as individuals, as local government and as a country will define what “after Covid” looks like.
There has never been a more important time to focus on the future physical and mental health of our local communities and the health of our nation. A message that has been clear from early last year, when we as a country, almost overnight, went into a national lockdown.
Lockdown has brought a unique and widespread awareness of the need for physical exercise, the need for fighting loneliness, and the need for socialising and human interaction. National awareness of the link between socialising and physical exercise on the mental health of communities has never been higher.
Life as we know it disappeared and our daily routine was altered. But one liberty which most of us were still afforded was our ‘one hour of daily exercise outdoors’. That is, if you were lucky enough not be one of those classed as vulnerable to the Covid virus.
Many older adults and those living with health conditions were part of this more vulnerable group or their age dictated that they must stay at home. The ‘shielding’ who probably needed this liberty more than most, had it taken away. One year on, and they are still the most vulnerable but there is hope on the horizon as the mass vaccination programme rolls out across the country.
As a nation we must learn from the last 12 months. Aligned with the Sport England ‘Uniting the Movement’ strategy released last month we must focus on the five big issues, starting with ‘Recover and Reinvent’. We must build systems that support our ageing population, and as Jenny Harries, Public Health England commented, ‘add life to years, not just years to life’. We must take action now to build resilience against such a threat in the future.
Pre-Covid these threats already existed, one example being the winter flu. Yes, there is a vaccine but should we not seek to build stronger community interventions and preventative solutions which may help reduce this virus’s impact too? Interventions that not only have positive health benefits physically, but also help to reduce social isolation and improve mental health for older communities. These solutions would help reduce the burden on already stretched NHS and social care budgets.
Coined ‘the miracle cure’ by Tani Grey-Thompson, Chair of ukactive, this is not a new prescription, but one that for many years has been favoured by leisure experts.
Let me explain why, with particular reference to older adult populations and those with long term health conditions. Pre-Covid, 75% of those aged over 65 years who attended Shapemaster (power assisted exercise) suites in leisure facilities exercised three or more times per week, helping prevent, delay or manage long-term conditions. This is in line with NHS guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise a week, and bear in mind the average age of participants is 67!
But in addition to this, what we have seen consistently at Shapemaster through our ongoing research, is improvement in balance scores, improved mobility and the ability to perform everyday tasks made easier and, in many cases, less painful/stressful. The beauty of the ‘exercise’ environment is that it provides a comfortable, safe and intuitive exercise option with an important secondary benefit for this group – a social lifeline.
Add to this recent studies that show additional benefits in terms of vaccine efficacy. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have found that ‘regular aerobic or moderate exercise in the weeks and months prior to Covid-19 vaccination can help improve responses post vaccination in older people’ with the study suggesting that ‘adults aged 60 and over should consistently incorporate some form of exercise at least two to three times per week prior to vaccination’.
As we recover and start to rebuild from the pandemic and dream about a healthier, more liberated year ahead, let’s continue to build local community infrastructures that provide better options for our ageing population, to get and stay more active, taking a holistic preventative approach rather than a reactive one.
Let’s support our older populations to maintain their independence for longer and reduce pressures on local services. This is a unique and transformative opportunity to create unified leisure, health and social benefits for our communities.
If you are an innovator, this is something you will already been thinking about, so the time is now…what are you waiting for?
To find out more about how Shapemaster could help you in your quest to support your older adults and those suffering with long term health conditions complete your details below and we’ll get in touch for an informal chat.