Older Scots should be offered alternative to gym

21 February 2012

Older Scots should be offered alternative to gym

Dr Emmanuelle Tulle

Older Scots should be offered a new dedicated space outside of the gym in which to exercise, according to the findings of a new study.

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researcher Dr Emmanuelle Tulle studied the way older people interacted with fitness instructors during classes held in a Scottish gym. Participants in the study had originally been referred to the gym by their doctors.

She discovered that the gym was unable to fully meet the needs of their older clients; instructors drew on exercise philosophies which were unsuitable for some older users; and that budgetary constraints impacted more heavily on the older gym users, who were less likely to exercise on their own and made most use of organised classes.

Regular physical activity in those aged over 65 is directly associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, falls and some types of cancer. Achieving physical activity guidelines  can reduce premature mortality by between 20-30%. Active older people have a 55% lower risk of a hip fracture than sedentary older people.

In August, GCU will host the 8th World Congress on Active Aging where ideas on how to motivate a larger number of older people to exercise regularly will be discussed. 

Dr Tulle, who plans to publish her findings later this year, said that in this health context, the focus on sporting excellence and athleticism in most gyms – as opposed to enjoyment of movement – was a problem.

She said: “The main message is that gyms are not necessarily the place for most people, especially those who are older, as they still operate within a sport culture and most people do not see themselves as sporty so can be easily frightened off.

“So either we reclaim gyms as non-sporty or we locate physical activity somewhere else altogether. We propose a more community-oriented approach aimed at fostering enjoyment and happiness derived from the discovery of physicality and the creation of social ties.”

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