According to the MultiSport Index 2023 survey, the physical activity of Poles decreases with age. Even though 81% of seniors in Poland treat exercise as an important element of health prevention, currently 76% of people over 60 do not undertake any physical activity, even once a week. These alarming results shed light on the urgent need for educational activities aimed at increasing seniors’ awareness of the benefits of regular physical activity.
Physical activity is the basis for a healthy and long life. However, according to the MultiSport Index 2023 survey, only one in four seniors in Poland are physically active at least once a week. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation recommends that people over the age of 65 engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.
According to Iwona Piątkowska, PhD in physical culture in the field of biomedical sciences, the observed trend is not optimistic. The Benefit Systems expert claims that the appropriate amount and intensity of exercise is crucial for the health of seniors, and neglecting this area is associated with serious health consequences and a significant deterioration in the quality and comfort of life.
– Today, the greatest health threats are cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Diet-related disorders resulting from eating foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients are also becoming an increasing burden on the health service. Physical activity has a positive effect on the heart and blood vessels. We also know that it has a protective effect on the brain and delays the appearance of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. It also contributes to the prevention of selected types of cancer, e.g. colorectal cancer – says Dr. Iwona Piątkowska.
A recipe for a long and healthy life
The positive effects of regular activity in older people include improved mental health, cognitive function, and sleep. Moreover, an active lifestyle helps prevent falls-related injuries among seniors, which are dangerous at this age. According to Dr. Piątkowska, a significant problem among older people is also systematically decreasing muscle mass.
– We often associate muscles only with appearance, forgetting that they are necessary to maintain independence and self-reliance in everyday life. One of the common reasons for hospitalisation of older people is the so-called “hip fracture.” It is associated with reduced bone mass, but also with excessively weakened muscles, which do not provide proper stabilisation to the joints and balance to the body. In the event of a fracture, after long immobilisation, they do not allow rebuilding the strength that would enable regaining independence – comments Dr. Iwona Piątkowska.
Every activity matters
Among non-exercising seniors, more than half are people declaring that their lack of physical activity is due to illness (54%). One in five (17%) inactive seniors are prevented from activity by an injury, and one in ten (9%) indicate a lack of motivation to exercise.
Among a narrow group of physically active seniors, the favourite activities are walking (50%) and cycling (41%). However, as MultiSport Index experts point out, although walking or cycling are of course beneficial for maintaining good fitness, seniors should also remember about another important WHO recommendation: muscle strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
– In strength training, we don’t always need large metal weights. For older people, it is crucial to adapt exercises to their own abilities. Bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges, and table push-ups can be equally effective. Consultations with specialists are also equally important. Although they are mainly associated with younger users of gyms and fitness clubs, they can allow seniors to properly manage their exercises, the effects of which will be visible in everyday life – says Piotr Czyżewski, sports trainer and wellbeing expert at Benefit Systems.
Currently, almost 20% of physically active seniors include gymnastics or fitness classes as their favourite exercises. Moreover, almost half of physically active people over 60 would like to use a sports card entitling them to exercise in sports and recreational facilities .
Physical activity and mental health
Despite the low level of activity shown by seniors in Poland, research shows that they are aware of the psychophysical benefits of exercise. Already 41% of active people in the 60+ group point to health prevention as the strongest motivator to take up physical activity, and 26% see relaxation and pleasure in an active lifestyle. For one in ten (12%) seniors, the main motivator to exercise is to improve their mood, and for 5% - doctor’s recommendations. Moreover, 78% of people over 60 years of age agree that increasing the level of physical activity improves mental health, and 75% notice its impact on reducing stress and bad emotions.
Activity – not only sports, but also integration
According to psychologist Joanna Mikołajczak, an additional benefit of an active lifestyle for seniors is a significant reduction in the sense of loneliness that more and more people in this age group struggle with. This is also confirmed by research published in Geriatric Nursing. Physical activity is associated with a lower likelihood of social isolation. In the case of seniors who exercise moderately, this risk decreases by 31%, and in the case of those who exercise intensively – by 35% .
– Conclusions coming from observations of people exercising in a group are particularly interesting. Activities taking place in the presence of other people resulted in a decrease in anxiety and feeling of loneliness, and an increase in optimism and a sense of belonging. Fitness classes for seniors, yoga, Pilates, and a healthy spine training are examples of activities during which one can experience the beneficial power of a group – says psychologist Joanna Mikołajczak.
According to the Central Statistical Office report, in 2021, in Poland people over 60 constituted over a quarter of the population (9.7 million). It is estimated that by 2050 this number will increase to 13.7 million, which will constitute approximately 40% of the population of Poland. According to WHO, by 2030 half a billion people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or other non-communicable diseases related to physical inactivity if measures encouraging greater activity are abandoned. The estimated costs of this inaction are 27 billion dollars annually.
The lack of physical activity among seniors is therefore an increasingly serious social problem that cannot be ignored. Regular physical activity not only ensures better physical health, but also has the potential to integrate people and create bonds between them, often becoming an excuse to spend time together. It is important to build awareness in this area and develop initiatives and programmes aimed at activating this social group.
MultiSport Index is a comprehensive survey of physical activity (exercise undertaken at least once a month) and sports activity (regular physical activity undertaken at least once a week) of Poles. It is conducted on behalf of Benefit Systems by the Minds&Roses research agency. The MultiSport Index 2023 survey was conducted on a representative random sample of 1,400 Poles aged 18+ using the computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) technique. The survey was carried out from 30 January to 3 February 2023.
Senior PR Specialist Benefit Systems