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10 qualities of an outstanding senior activity programme

Group of older people sat down doing exercises

Activity helps older people to become more resilient to illness and injury. This helps them to live independently in their own homes and stay out of hospitals and residential homes for as long as possible. 

Studies show that 86% of women and 78% of men in residential homes in England are sedentary and spend most of their time seated or lying down. Along with the natural decline in muscle strength and bone density, those who are less active will be weaker than those who are and this puts people at greater risk of developing conditions such as falls, frailty and dementia. Although many of us become more sedentary as we get older, developing these conditions is not inevitable. Many older adults remain active, which helps to keep them more engaged in the community, and contributing to society, as well as preventing falls and circulatory problems. 

Research by the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) found that 70% of over 65s want to be more active but feel that there are barriers stopping them from doing so. Nearly one in four older people listed their reasons for not using nearby facilities as being self-conscious in environments such as gyms, often dominated by young people, with a further 22% stating the facilities don’t accommodate the needs of older people. 

Older adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits, including maintenance of good physical and cognitive function. Some physical activity is better than none, and more physical activity provides greater health benefits. We believe the solution is prescribing activity programmes especially for seniors that can be undertaken from the comfort of their homes, or in residential villages as part of a group. 

Read on to discover the 10 things that excellent senior activity programmes include:    

1. Include strength and muscle building exercises 

A good senior activity programme should include strength based activities to promote muscle development and improve functional movements such as walking, bending down and going upstairs. 

Functional capacity declines with age and is accelerated by low levels of physical activity. Even among healthy active people, strength, endurance, balance, bone density and flexibility are all lost at about 10% per decade. Muscle power is lost at an even faster rate at around 30% per decade. Older adults should undertake a physical activity programme to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week. 

2. Focus on balance and coordination

Falls are the largest cause of emergency hospital admissions for older adults, and significantly impact on long term outcomes, such as people moving from their own home to long-term nursing or residential care. A senior activity programme must include activities which help to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. 

3. Be sociable 

The ARCO research (mentioned earlier) revealed that almost a quarter of older adults said they would be more likely to attend a nearby gym facility or class if they had someone to go with. These numbers increased to nearly one in three in over 65s who live alone. A good senior activity programme should cater for groups of people and allow them to join in at the same time. This would encourage more older adults to participate and encourage social interactions.  

4. Be inclusive of a range of ages and abilities 

It’s important to include variations of activities to ensure the programme is inclusive for older people of all ages and abilities. Each activity in the programme should have a sitting and a standing variation for different ages and conditions.  

5. Be safe 

Safety is paramount for any activity programme, but especially for seniors who are not as active. You certainly don’t want anyone to suffer an injury while performing activities that are meant to reduce their risk of injury. 

Ensure that the programme has been designed by trained professionals, such as senior activity specialists or occupational therapists, who have piloted the activities with older adults and reported a positive impact.

Saying this, it is also important not to see all older people as completely frail. Within these safe parameters, encourage them to push themselves to try new things and do more.  

6. Include cardiovascular activities

In the UK, more than 25% of all deaths of people aged 65 and over are caused by cardiovascular disease. Cardio activities for older adults don’t have to be high-intensity or include running, for older adults they can be any movement that raises the heart rate. For example, marching on the spot and walking around the room. 

7. Be enjoyable

People are more likely to stick to an activity programme that they enjoy doing, especially if they are in the mindset that activity is a chore. Activity programmes should be accompanied by entertaining and age-appropriate music that uplifts older adults and encourages them to move around and have fun. 

8. Follow research and guidance 

Any senior activity programme should follow up-to-date research and guidelines from the National Health Service (NHS) and health governing bodies, as well as science and academia to provide evidence for the programme and its effectiveness.  

9. Provide tools to evaluate progress

A good activity programme will provide you with the tools to measure and evaluate its impact. Whether that’s through regular assessments, monitoring wellbeing statistics or using wellbeing questionnaires. If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. 

10. Be simple and straightforward

Health and wellbeing for older adults isn’t rocket science, so there’s no reason why it should be overly complicated. Older people are much more likely to sustain a programme that’s easy to use and can be done at any time. Programmes should come with complete training for the people using it at home and for the people delivering it in residential/care homes. 

There you have it, here are the top 10 qualities of an outstanding Senior Activity programme. Did you know that Amaven’s programme possesses these qualities? Visit our Seniors section or contact us to find out more about the Amaven Senior Programme.