Staying active in older age: Week 1 – Adjusting to new realities

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Practical exercise tips for people aged 60 and over on staying active, even in isolation, from researchers at the Universities of Birmingham and Bath.

Hello and welcome to this new blog from the REtirement in ACTion (REACT) study team.

Our research is all about older people and physical activity, and we want to use this blog as a space to provide regular practical tips which can help all of you.

We are living through a very strange and difficult time. On a practical level, this means none of us can attend exercise classes anymore, or even just go out for a walk if we are in one of the vulnerable groups who need to completely self-isolate. However, we can still exercise at home. This is more important now than ever. We have just completed the REACT study, where we supported over 400 people aged 65 years and older to attend regular group exercise sessions and to exercise at home [1]. We want to use this experience and some of the evidence we have collected through REACT to help you navigate this period of isolation and retain your physical fitness.

What we know

Now is a really important time to start being more physically active. There is strong evidence that exercise can prevent the immune system from declining and protect against infections [2]. Some organisations, including the Centre for Perioperative care, recommend that people, especially those in a vulnerable high-risk group should be taking exercise, “so that if they catch the virus (Covid-19), they are less likely to need intensive care”.

Building exercise into your day will also help you develop a routine and a purpose. There is a lot about our lives that we cannot control at the moment, but we can try to control our own levels of physical activity. This is something positive we can do that will have genuine benefits that we can see and feel.

This pays off and being active is also good for our mental well-being [3]. It can lift our mood, boost our ‘happy hormones’ and help us feel calmer, something we all need at the moment.

Finally, it really is true that we use it or lose it when it comes to our fitness and our muscle strength. We naturally lose some muscle mass as we age and this can increase significantly if we become very inactive [4, 5]. If you are used to being independent, walking to the shops or to other activities, and you want to be sure you can still do this period of self-isolation is over, then staying active at home is vitally important to helping you maintain your independence.

So over the coming weeks and months, the REACT team will be giving you all the information you need to stay active in an evidence-based, safe way.

Next week’s blog ‘Let’s get moving’ will begin our programme.

See you all then!

Dr Afroditi Stathi, University of Birmingham
Dr Janet Withall & Dr Jolanthe deKoning, University of Bath
Dr Pete Ladlow, UK Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre
on behalf of the REACT study team.

  1. Stathi, A., et al., A community-based physical activity intervention to prevent mobility-related disability for retired older people (REtirement in ACTion (REACT)): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials, 2018.
  2. Davison, G., C. Kehaya, and A. Wyn Jones, Nutritional and Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Immunity. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2016.
  3. Stathi, A., K.R. Fox, and J. McKenna, Physical activity and dimensions of subjective well-being in older adults. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 2002.
  4. Fox, K.R., et al., Objectively assessed physical activity and lower limb function and prospective associations with mortality and newly diagnosed disease in UK older adults: an OPAL four-year follow-up study. Age and Ageing, 2015.
  5. Simmonds, B., et al., Objectively assessed physical activity and subsequent health service use of UK adults aged 70 and over: a four to five year follow up study. PloS one, 2014.


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