With an ageing population of over 12 million people over the age of 65, the Office for National Statistics projects that there will be an additional 8.6 million people over the age of 65 by 2070. Despite the known benefits of physical activity, including maintaining independence and reducing the risk of falling or fracturing bones, only 50% of adults aged 75+ complete 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Coupled with preventable long-term conditions, physical activity can help avoid unnecessary social care and we need a concerted effort to provide support and opportunities for physical activity to help older adults maintain independence and lessen the costly burden of social care.

While barriers and challenges experienced by older adults have been identified, understanding the examples of what the sector is currently doing, and older adults’ opinions around how well the current practice caters towards their needs is missing. In order to expand research in this area, it is necessary to understand what is currently working and what can be altered and improved.

To achieve this the ukactive Research Institute undertook a research consultation across the fitness and leisure sector. This research is spilt into three key sections.

1. Case study submission: ukactive has called for the submission of case studies from across the sector to understand what the sector is doing to meet the needs of the older population. Case studies include examples, solutions, programmes and commissioning modelling that are in place to support older adults to be active.

2. Older adult review of case studies: Once the case studies have been collated they will be reviewed by the individuals they impact. This will include a group of older adults, selected to best represent individuals from this age group, will be invited to take part in a qualitative research process known as Nominal Group Technique (NGT).

3. Development of recommendations: Recommendations will be developed based on the case studies received, the review of case studies, and qualitative research. Recommendations will be presented in a report to inform policy and practice within the fitness and leisure sector.

The findings from the mixed methods research and Combined analysis identified six themes highlighting what impacts older adult’s decisions to engage in offerings, from which nine recommendations were produced. These themes and recommendations include:

1. Having easy and accessible offerings that utilise customer feedback to make necessary adaptations to scheduling (e.g. flexibility in frequency, booking options and range of activities) and that support needs of older adults centred around maintaining strength.
2. Create, build and maintain a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere to increase likelihood of repeat usage, through fostering a sense of community and rapport between the workforce and customers and maintaining high standards of safety and facility upkeep.
3. Maintaining and increasing socialising opportunities through offerings in order to support physical, mental and social health, improve experience and drive attendance.
4. Preparing the workforce with the people skills to deliver high quality offerings primarily with knowledge on communication and interpersonal skills, and an understanding of common health conditions and how to adapt exercises to individual health needs.
5. Appropriately categorising and communicating offerings to maximise attendance by a) categorising by ability or intensity, not age; b) providing clear and detailed information about what offerings include and ability level and c) advertising intergenerational mixing.
6. Ensuring offerings support physical health and integrated health care systems long-term following the pandemic by providing sessions that address changes in physical ability, supporting physical rehabilitation of older adults from Covid-19, and continuing a digital-hybrid approach.

The full report can be seen here