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Keeping fit into old age 'has emotional and physical benefits'

Keeping fit into old age 'has emotional and physical benefits'
10th September 2009

The importance of leading an active and healthy lifestyle is constantly highlighted by experts, with the government's current Change 4 Life initiative designed to improve fitness levels among children and adults.

Remaining active is something that is important throughout life, into older age, when it is extremely important.

Andrew Harrop, head of public policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: "Not only does it keep the body in better shape, but an active lifestyle helps prevent isolation which in turn reduces the risk of psychological conditions such as depression."

Doing physical activity can also significantly enhance wellbeing and mood, which Mr Harrop explained has a huge effect on the all-round health of an older person.

"It's important to remember that being active involves far more than avoiding conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis - it's about being able to be fit and healthy enough to engage in your communities, being able to get out and about and contribute," he said.

There are plenty of activities that they can engage in to keep fit, just like people in any other age group, Mr Harrop insisted.

He said that the nature of exercise undertaken by older people tends to depend on how fit they are generally.

Many people enjoy brisk walking, for example, while others prefer to do chair exercises which help to keep the arms and joints in good condition, the expert pointed out.

"Other very fit older people still participate in very demanding activities - even running marathons," Mr Harrop added.

According to research by Age Concern and Help the Aged, older people particularly enjoy taking part in activities that have a social element to them, such as dancing or other group activities.

"The watchword is that it should be fun," Mr Harrop said.

To that end, leading care services provider Barchester, in partnership with Help the Aged, recently introduced Nintendo Wii games consoles into its homes.

The new technology has been brought in as part of Barchester and the charity's joint Fitness With Care initiative and the console comes with sports software which offers residents a range of games to play and different ways of exercising.

Playing tennis can help to maintain their hand-eye co-ordination, while a round of Wii golf can give their arms a good work out.

"Many older people enjoy puzzle books and crosswords, so using Wii consoles is a logical extension of much the same activity and will have a role in helping older people keep their mind active," said Mr Harrop.

Barchester has also introduced fitness equipment designed especially for older people as part of its Fitness With Care scheme.

The programme, which will be rolled out across all of the group's care homes, includes activities ranging from using the Nintendo Wii to outdoor musical instruments, making exercise fun for older people.

Dr Lorna Layward, of Research Into Ageing, the biomedical investigatory arm of Help the Aged, spoke about the Fitness with Care scheme, saying: "The initiative is so important because our bodies are never beyond improving and respond surprisingly well to lifestyle changes, whatever our age."

"Keeping fit also forms part of a holistic approach to living life to the full in our later years," she concluded.

The project follows research from the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois in the US, which found that regular moderate exercise can help to reverse the decline in brain function that takes place as people age.