Too many people letting muscle waste as they age, physiotherapists warn

Get strong to live long, physiotherapists are urging older people after new polling suggested millions might not even be carrying their shopping each week.

Get strong to live long, physiotherapists are urging older people after new polling suggested millions might not even be carrying their shopping each week.

A survey for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy found 24 per cent of people aged 65 and over do no strengthening activities at all each week (1), potentially putting themselves at risk of falls and other serious ill health.

A further nine per cent only did it once, leaving them one short of the official target.

The national activity guidelines recommend doing two strengthening sessions a week – in addition to the better-known call to be active for 150 minutes (2).

For people up to the age of 64, the guidelines say these sessions can include exercising with weights or lifting and carrying heavy loads such as groceries.

For those 65 and over, they can also include activities that involve stepping and jumping, like dancing, or chair aerobics.

The results come after a Lancet study revealed the benefits of non-recreational activities like vacuuming (3).

The poll also raised concerns that those approaching retirement are not doing enough to protect their long-term health with the survey showing 34 per cent of people aged 55-64 missed the target completely.

Across both age ranges, 19 per cent said they didn’t know how to do strengthening activities while a further 18 per cent said they just didn’t want to.

Some 35 per cent of respondents said a health condition prevented them from strengthening.

Studies show that strengthening activities are shown to help prevent falls and other ill health as we age – and reverse the process whereby we lose up to eight per cent of our muscle mass each decade from the age of 30 (4).

Falls cause an estimated 95 per cent of all hip fractures and cost the NHS more than £1bn a year.

Prof Karen Middleton, chief executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said:

‘We must move past the idea that becoming weaker and frailer is inevitable as we get older.

‘Research shows getting stronger brings a whole host of health benefits so it is incredibly important that people don’t overlook strengthening when being active.

‘As the guidelines set out, it doesn’t mean immediately hitting the gym to lift weights - to start, it can be digging in the garden or simple bodyweight exercises like standing up out of a chair 10 times.

‘There are easy ways to do it but the essential thing is to get started and these poll results show a lot of work needs to be done to get that message out.’

The poll indicated that those who do not meet the target are unlikely to be inspired by those who do, however.

Just six per cent said they would be encouraged to meet the guidelines by friends, family or neighbours doing it.

Advice from a GP or physiotherapist would be more effective, the poll found, with 14 per cent also calling for better information online.

The poll coincides with the release of a short animation produced by the CSP aimed at helping people make a start (5).

The animation features six simple exercises that can be done around the house, with instructions from a physiotherapist on how to do them safely and effectively.

It comes as physiotherapy staff across the UK prepare to hold more than 400 events to mark Older People’s Day, which is on October 1.

There are 11.8 million people aged 65 and above in the UK (6).

Note to editors

For further media information about the CSP please call the CSP press office on 020 7306 1111 or email Out of hours please call Jon Ryan, head of press and PR on 07917 091 200.

  1. Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,007 UK adults aged 55 and over between September 19 and 22.
  6. Later life  in the united Kingdom -Age UK Factsheet (updated August 2017)
  7. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is the UK’s professional, educational and trade union body. We have more than 56,000 members, including chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and support workers.

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