The increasingly fragile financial state of the NHS doesn’t bode well for the future care of our ageing population. So it is fortunate that research says the need for more social care isn’t inevitable.
NICE stated in 2015 that “disability, dementia and frailty can be prevented or delayed”.
This remarkable statement wasn’t noticed at the time. It hinges on keeping people able to manage their daily living by washing, dressing, feeding themselves and shopping.
How could we achieve this elusive aim? Simple. By keeping people fit as they get older. Just because you get old needn’t mean you lose fitness.
The problem is that people with long-term medical conditions often mistakenly believe that exercise will make things worse. This is not true, and they need to improve the four aspects of fitness: strength, stamina, suppleness and skill.
Evidence is growing that maintaining these components of fitness improves cognitive ability and reduces the risk of dementia, not only in midlife but also in the 70s and 80s.
The physical, mental, and social benefits of exercise can help enable people to live more independently and more autonomously. And strength and balance training cuts the risk of falls.
The good news is that at any age and with any combination of health problems, exercise provides, in the words of an important report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, “the miracle cure.”
Exercise may reverse the decline and keep a person above the threshold for needing social care.
People in their 70s with below average ability (measured as “chair rise” time) who improve this by 25% to the average speed of people in their 60s, reverse a decade of decline. Ten years!
There are real improvements in older people’s “up and go” times when exercise ranging from walking to high intensity is started as an intervention. Best of all, those who are the most frail benefit the most.
We tend to think exercise is for the young while older people should sit back and relax. But we all need physical activity, defined as movement using our muscles that burns calories, including gardening and walking. Exercise is just planned, structured, and repetitive physical activity.
The UK chief medical officer recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity plus twice weekly strength and balance exercise for adults of all ages.
Any physical activity for at least 10 minutes that gets someone slightly out of breath contributes to the 150 minutes and could make you as fit as someone 18 years younger.
That’s an offer you can’t refuse.