Telling the elderly to take it easy ‘a mistake that costs UK billions’

Encouraging older people to take it easy is damaging their health and costing the UK billions in social care, according to experts in ageing.

Keeping fit and active staves off the need for extra support – but pensioners are often mistakenly told they should rest, they said. Experts from Oxford University and the Centre for Ageing Better said exercise can reverse physical decline by as much as a decade.

They argue that the effects of ageing are often confused with loss of fitness, but it is loss of fitness that increases the chance of needing social care. Those in their seventies with below-average ability who improve by 25 per cent – measured by how long it takes to get out of a chair – could get to the average speed of people in their sixties, they said.

Meanwhile, a recent collection of studies has shown improvements in older people’s “up and go” times when they took up exercise ranging from walking to weight training – with the benefits increasing the more they did.

The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, called for a change in how people view getting older, with exercise becoming the norm. They said: “Ensuring that as many people as possible maintain the ability to manage vital activities of daily living requires a cultural change so that it becomes normal to expect people of all ages to be active.

“The prevailing attitude that exercise is for young people while older people should be encouraged to relax needs to be challenged.”

The total cost of social care, including local authority, self-funding and informal care, is more than £100bn a year, but exercise could cut this bill, they said.