By Dr Conor Cunningham, IPH Public Health Interventions Officer: Physical Activity & Ageing
Blog for European Public Health Week 2019, 13 May - Becoming, being and remaining physically active
We know the endless benefits of physical activity. A stroll in the park, a run in the evening, or a dip in the pool, we know the benefits of working up a sweat. But we need more people to become physically active, especially as we head for an ageing boom across the island of Ireland.
The importance of physical activity for health across the life course is well documented. People who are physically active lower the risk of having over 20 chronic health conditions and diseases, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and depression. As we age, being physically active plays a key role in preserving physical and cognitive function and promoting independence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults (including older adults aged 65 years and over) undertake at least 150 min of moderate-intensity, or 75 min of vigorous-intensity, aerobic physical activity or an equivalent combination each week. On at least two days of the week, you should also aim to complete muscle strengthening activities for major muscle groups. When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity, they should be as physically active as their abilities allow.
Despite the known benefits and guidelines for physical activity and health, physical inactivity stubbornly remains a global issue, particularly in older adult populations. The island of Ireland (North and South) is no exception. Data from longitudinal cohort studies on the Island of Ireland (The Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study of Ageing (NICOLA) and The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA)) suggest that many older adults (aged 65 years and over) do not meet recommended physical activity guidelines. Typically, physical activity levels also decline with age. Population ageing is therefore an important dynamic in discussions surrounding older adult’s physical activity.
It is one of greatest public health successes that we are ageing and living longer than ever before. On the Island of Ireland populations have been getting progressively older since the 1980s, and research shows we will experience an ageing population boom. Over 1.3 million people aged 60 and over live across the island. By 2041, there will be 2.3 million aged 60 and over across the island.
Promoting physical activity to the older adult population is therefore now more important than ever, but requires a rethink of some of our physical activity images and messages. We also need a ‘whole-system’ approach in improving the social, cultural, economic and environmental factors that support physical activity.
As part of a wider programme of work in the area of physical activity and older adults (which includes the publication of a policy overview of physical activity on the Island of Ireland) the Institute of Public Health in Ireland is undertaking research to understand current practice amongst health care professionals in promoting physical activity to older people. The health care setting is crucial for the promotion of healthy ageing and engaging older people in physical activity.
The EPHW Motto of the day is: “I like to move it, move it”.
In terms of physical activity and older adults, perhaps, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old – we grow old because we stop playing” (George Bernard Shaw) is more pertinent.