Adults and older people who start a modest daily exercise regime now can reverse a decade of decline in fitness and reduce the cost of social care by billions of pounds each year.
That is according to Eastbourne consultant orthopaedic surgeon Scarlett McNally, who has penned an article for the British Medical Journal this week saying evidence shows that exercise among adults improves lives and drastically reduces the need for social care.
Mrs McNally, a former chairperson of the Bespoke Cycle campaign group in Eastbourne, said people need to find a way to fit 20 minutes of moderate physical activity into their daily lives, like medicine.
“Many diseases, including dementia, frailty, disability, heart disease and some cancers are preventable or reducible with small amounts of exercise,” said the surgeon.
“Environments and expectations need to change, including providing open areas, social activities and cycle lanes. “Friends and family need to support their loved ones to be active.
“This follows work called ‘Exercise, miracle cure’ I led in 2015.
“The evidence of health benefit, and now of large cost savings, is overwhelming.”
The article in the BMJ says a concerted effort to encourage older people to keep active can not only help them live more independently but reduce the need for social care – the costs of which are spiralling.
The total cost of social care including local authority, self funding, and informal care is over £100billion, which is similar to the annual amount the UK spends on healthcare, said Mrs McNally and colleagues.
The reports says, “Yet regardless of age and underlying health problems, exercise can reverse the decline and keep a person above the threshold for needing increased care.”
The medics argue that the effects of ageing are often confused with loss of fitness - and it is actually loss of fitness that increases the risk of needing social care.
Figures show a quarter of women and 20 per cent of men in the UK report doing no activity at all in a week, let alone the recommended minimum 150 minutes to maintain health.
Furthermore, evidence is growing that fitness improves cognitive ability and reduces the risk of dementia.
The prevailing attitude that exercise is for young people while older people should be encouraged to relax “needs to be challenged”, they write.
“Gyms, walking groups, gardening, cooking clubs, and volunteering have all been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of people at all ages with long term conditions.”
They also call for changes to environments and expectations “to make exercise possible for middle aged and older people, including open spaces and facilities for active travel”.
“We need individuals to understand their role in reducing demand for social care by being active,” they write.
“The gap between the best possible level of ability and actual ability can be reduced at any age, no matter how many long term conditions the person may have.”