Elderly need to take responsibility for their own long-term health

My Post (6)Elderly people are not doing enough to protect their long-term health and it is having a knock on effect on the NHS. A recent survey found almost a quarter of people aged 65 and over do no strengthening activities at all, and only 9% do them once a week (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 2017).

Along with 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, national activity guidelines recommend adults over 65 do strength training at least two times a week (NHS Choices, 2015). Working all the major muscles on a regular basis has the benefit of improving daily movement, maintaining strong bones and regulating blood pressure. It is also known to reduce the risk of falls.

Falls cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion a year, not to mention the human cost of pain, injury, and loss of confidence (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2013). It has regularly been highlighted that physiotherapists can greatly reduce the number of falls in the elderly if utilised properly. This is done by a multifactorial assessment of those who may be at risk, followed by a multifactorial intervention to improve strength and balance. As many as 160 000 falls could be prevented if everyone 65 and over at risk of falling was referred to physiotherapy. This would save the NHS £250 million a year (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 2014).

While these figures are substantial and illustrate how physiotherapists play a key role in the pathway of care, a simpler solution would be to increase the amount of education in the community in the benefits of strengthening activities. If people were encouraged more and realised how including strengthening activities as part of their weekly routine would affect them, it would reduce the number of people requiring medical attention for falls and take the pressure off health care professionals. The public should be taking responsibility for their own health, yet evidently they are not.

Many adults are put off by the idea of traditional strength training and squirm at the thought of hitting the gym to lift weights. However, this is by no means the only way to gain strength. Recent evidence highlights the benefit of both recreational and non-recreational activities in improving overall health (Lear et al, 2017). Recreational activities that can help to improve strength include yoga, dancing or even heavy gardening. If time is a concern, non-recreational activities such as carrying heavy shopping or doing the housework offer a practical way to build strength. By being mindful of these sorts of activities, the national recommended target can easily be reached.

People need to be inspired to meet these targets, but that is no easy task. However, more can and must be done. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s poll found that advice from a GP or physiotherapist would be effective in encouraging people to meet national guidelines so this needs to be pushed. Additionally, more information is needed, both online and in the community. The public must take responsibility for their own health, but to do that they need to be properly educated.


Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Cost of falls [Internet]. London: CSP; 2014 Sep 2 [cited 2017 Oct 11]. Available from: http://www.csp.org.uk/professional-union/practice/your-business/evidence-base/cost-falls

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Too many people letting muscle waste as they age, physiotherapists warn [Internet]. London: CSP; 2017 Sep 29 [cited 2017 Oct 11]. Available from http://www.csp.org.uk/press-releases/2017/09/28/too-many-peopleletting-muscle-waste-they-age-physiotherapists-warn

Lear SA, Hu W, Rangarajan S. The effect of physical activity on mortality and cardiovascular disease in 130 000 people from 17 high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries: the PURE study. Lancet. 2017;pii:S0140-6736(17)31634-3. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31634-3

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Falls in older people: assessing risk and prevention (CG 161). London: NICE; 2013

NHS Choices. Physical activity guidelines for older adults [Internet]. London: NHS Choices; 2015 July 11 [cited 2017 Oc 12]. Available from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-older-adults.aspx

Taken from International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, published November 2017.