Why active ageing is good for heart and mind

Ladies walking down the street

Did you know that 2012 is the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between the Generations? The title might be a bit long-winded, but in a nutshell 2012 is the year where awareness of older people’s contributions to society takes centre stage.

A big part of this is active ageing. The 8th World Congress on Active Ageing, a four yearly event, will be held in Glasgow in August this year, so Scotland will be central to raising awareness.

But what, exactly, is active ageing? Despite its connotations, active ageing isn’t about copious volumes of exercise, Lycra outfits and running up mountains. The definition is broad, and ranges from social activity (like chatting with friends) to physical activity (such as walking to the shops) to proper exercise (like structured fitness classes… or running up mountains).

Active ageing means growing old in good health and participating as an active member of society, feeling more fulfilled in our jobs, more independent in our daily lives and more involved as citizens.

Older couple dancing

The benefits of staying active are numerous. There are too many to fit in one photo caption…

Professor Dawn Skelton from Glasgow Caledonian University recently presented to participants at the Ending Isolation Through Design conference held in Edinburgh. In her presentation, she discussed some of the numerous benefits of active ageing:

  • Being active increases engagement, improves confidence, resilience and control, reduces anxiety and depression, as well as reducing symptoms of disease and improving function to help maintain independence.
  • It is NEVER TOO LATE! In only 3 months 65-95 year olds can rejuvenate 20 years of lost strength through activity and exercise.

So what can we do to ensure that we’re all ageing actively? Department of Health recommendations from 2011 say:

  • Aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hrs) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
  • Minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.
  • Undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength and to improve balance and co-ordination at least two days a week.
  • For those at risk of falls, use exercises that improve balance, strength and co-ordination.

Professor Skelton offered a particularly good tip to help with balance and strength. When you’re brushing your teeth, stand on your tip toes. It’s as easy as that!

We’ll be writing more on the topic of active ageing as the World Congress approaches. In the meantime, there are many local groups around Scotland that you can get involved with if you’re keen to get out and about, exercise more or want to make new social connections.

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