Date: 7th Oct 2016
A Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition at Buckinghamshire New University has called on authorities to tackle social isolation and provide meaning in older people's lives to tackle the challenges of an ageing population.
Dr Maria Konstantaki said increased opportunities are required for older people to socialise, exercise and eat healthy meals together, at a time when the National Statistics Office says older people over 65 years will make up 23 per cent of the world's population by 2034.
She said: "The UK is no exception to longevity in communities. For example, in the county of Cheshire, statistics indicate that there will be a 26 per cent increase in people aged over 65 by 2020, 41 per cent of which will be people aged over 85.
"In Buckinghamshire, one of the most affluent counties in England, the ageing population reached 500,000 in the 2011 Census and 23 per cent of the county's population are currently over 60. This is expected to rise to 40 per cent by 2026.
"On the other hand, birth rates are steadily declining so in the years to come there will be more older people compared to younger people, which will have obvious implications for healthcare especially if older people are in ill health.
"There are obvious concerns about the burden on the NHS as clear links have been established between unhealthy lifestyles and contracting non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and metabolic syndrome."
Dr Konstantaki said the statistics are 'alarming' and more is needed to be done for society to adapt to an ageing population. She said 'imaginative thinking' is required to ensure people remain active and healthy, both mentally and physically, as they grow older.
She added: "This includes re-imagining our social institutions and creating new ways for people to help one another and in turn enable all of us to age better".
"An example of achieving this is the creation of the award-winning Movers & Shakers initiative in Buckinghamshire, engaging older adults in weekly exercise and social interactions. Movers & Shakers members also organise leisure activities, such as concerts, talks and days out.
"Since its inception in 2008 with just one group, Movers & Shakers has grown to include 21 diverse community groups in 2016.
"Another 'home grown' excellent example of 'how to stay active in later life' is Wycombe 50 Plus that has 400 members and 80 people on the waiting list. The group offers a wide range of physical activities including Yoga, Tai Chi, swimming, muscle strengthening, keep fit classes, Zumba, spinning, table tennis, badminton, short tennis, short mat bowls, racket ball. Wycombe 50 Plus is inclusive and also organises theatre trips and holidays."
Ageing and Wellbeing Conference
Bucks New University has hosted the annual Ageing and Wellbeing Conference, organised with Bucks County Council and Movers & Shakers, which works with older people. It features lectures and presentations delivered by an international team of academics specialising in health and wellbeing, gerontology, physical activity, and leisure.
Dr Barbara Humberstone, Professor of Sociology of Sport, said this year's conference focused on 'intergenerational perspectives to ageing well' and students studying a range of sport-related qualifications were able to learn alongside older people in exercise to music classes. Similar activities were showcased at the conference, including Tai Chi, Zumba gold, and seated exercise.
The conference also included health and fitness MOTs as well as creative workshops demonstrating the benefits of keeping physically and mentally active.
Dr Konstantaki added: "As an educational provider, and an outward facing institution that engages with the local community, Bucks New University has an obligation to educate communities and promote the idea of healthy ageing.
"In the three years of its running, the conference has received financial support from community organisations such as Healthcare Bucks, Red Kite Community Housing, Paradigm Community Housing and Bucks Community Foundation. Through this activity we are hoping to create a 'blueprint' in Buckinghamshire as a place where people do not only retire but they actively engage in activities that promote longer and healthier lives."
Picture captions: The 2016 Ageing and Wellbeing Conference and the organisers of this year's conference.