Sir Muir Gray, knighted for his services to the NHS and considered to be one of the most creative minds in British medicine, was the keynote speaker at the recent virtual event organised by the Herts Sports and Physical Activity Partnership (HSP) aimed at creating a movement in Hertfordshire, to better understand the benefits of, and promote increased participation in physical activity amongst the county’s older adult population.
The Live Longer Better Hertfordshire event, which attracted over 200 participants, extolled the need to put physical activity at the heart of Covid-19 recovery for older adults.
In his insightful, informative and entertaining presentation, Sir Muir outlined the science behind the importance of physical activity to living longer better. Ageing need not be a problem in itself until people reach their mid to late 90s, and although disease clearly has an impact on personal resilience, it is the lack of fitness – together with negative perception of getting older – that are the real issues. But the good news he explained, is that the fitness gap can be closed at any age – through meaningful physical activity.
His presentation was followed by Anna Makepeace of Hertfordshire County Council, who highlighted her organisation’s work around frailty in older adults, as part of the NHS long-term plan which seeks to help more people to live independently at home for longer. As we emerge from the current pandemic there is a real risk that those older adults that have been shielding will have become deconditioned and the risk of falls and fractures will be significantly heightened. Physical activity, she said, has a massive role to play in countering this.
Those views were supported by Jess Keuhne of the Centre for Ageing Better, who gave delegates a stark reminder of how people are ageing in the UK and our prospects if action is not taken.
Another panellist, Mark Hanna, Interim Chief Executive of Age UK Hertfordshire highlighted research on the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of Hertfordshire and the importance of physical activity in countering this.
Professor Elizabeth Pike of the Research Unit for Sport, Physical Activity and Ageing (RUnSPAA) at the University of Hertfordshire delivered a case study on physical activity and social connectivity in older adults living with dementia – including Watford FC Community Sport and Education Trust’s Golden Memories programme.
This was followed by a further case study highlighting the Hertfordshire Independent Living Service (HILS) Never Too Late to Get Active project, which delivers physical activity to those older adults on the cusp of social care, within their own homes.
The event was closed by HSP’s Health Lead, Will Slemmings who outlined the next steps for the Live Longer Better initiative in Hertfordshire and the role that HSP will play in bringing all those with an interest in active ageing from the public, private and voluntary and community sectors together to share good practice, to promote collaboration and to help enable a more evidence-based, insight-led approach to promoting physical activity as an essential vehicle for improved health span.
In reflecting on the success of the event, Slemmings said:
“We were delighted with both the interest in the event and the subsequent feedback which has been overwhelmingly positive. Live Longer Better in Hertfordshire is a movement for the county – rather than a single project – and we are very pleased to be at the forefront of the movement. We all need to be talking about the ageing process with more positive language and to ensure that the benefits of physical activity to improved quality of life, as we reach our twilight years, is front and centre of what we do.”
In echoing Slemmings sentiments, HSP Partnership Director, John O’Callaghan said:
“I would like to put on record my thanks and appreciation to all of our speakers, who gave up their time freely to support this event. Rarely have I been involved in a virtual event where so many cross-sector professionals and volunteers have been so keen to connect behind a common cause. Sir Muir talked of the Live Longer Better movement as a revolution for Hertfordshire and beyond and I hope that the event was a key milestone in the challenge to the prevailing – yet outdated – norms, around ageing.”
Further details regarding Live Longer Better in Hertfordshire can be seen at www.livelongerbetterinherts.co.uk