Active, Stronger, Better – Hunter exercise program for older people

Author: Dr John Ward, Geriatrician

A recent article in The Lancet Healthy Longevity states that the failure of health systems to incorporate exercise programs into the health care of older people is “an example of medical, scientific and pharmaceutical industry failures to appreciate exercise’s major role as a therapeutic agent to prevent and treat both disease and loss of functional capacity”. To this, we could add that the failure of government at all levels to provide facilities for physical activity for older people is a major contributor to premature ageing and reduction in quality of life.

Exercise programs, specifically designed for target groups, are essential for the maintenance of bone strength to prevent fragility fractures; the prevention of type 2 diabetes in adults with impaired glucose tolerance; the control and possible reversal of type 2 diabetes; maintaining mobility in Parkinsons disease and other neurodegenerative disorders; the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia, one of the key components of frailty; falls prevention; the maintenance of independence and the prevention of premature residential aged care placement; adjunct therapy in cancer care.

The scientific evidence suggests that tailored exercise programs are essential strategies, if not the most effective strategy, for the prevention and management of many of the major health problems facing older people. It seems inexcusable and cost-ineffective for these not to be available for older people. In addition, group exercise for older people is an important strategy to increase socialisation and reduce loneliness and social isolation. 

Until quite recently, the Hunter had many group exercise programs for older people under the Heartmoves and Active over Fifties banners.  Sadly, both of these have ceased due to a lack of funding.

HAA plans to revitalise group exercise for older people in the Hunter and to improve the availability of exercise programs that are tailored to specific health conditions experienced by older people.  These programs are designed for everyone (being inclusive, regardless of age or health diagnosis) but have provisions within the leader’s training to be safe and effective for those critical conditions associated with ageing and the progression in disease.

Proposal

We are in the process of forming a Management Committee to include HNELHD and its relevant subspecialties;

  • Primary Care;
  • Awabakal and Multicultural Health;
  • University of Newcastle;
  • COTA;
  • Fitness Australia;
  • Private Health Insurers;
  • Fitness franchises;
  • RSL;
  • Hunter Ageing Alliance and interested individual specialists.

Our goal is to develop a range of accessible group exercise programs for older people, to include traditional group exercise programs as developed by Heartmoves and COTA’s Living Longer, Living Stronger programs and tailored programs for older people with specific medical problems.

This will involve developing training packages for exercise professionals with the assistance of COTA’s Living Longer, Living Stronger training modules and modules previously used by Heartmoves. The training modules should ensure GP and other medical support to promote referrals. Referral pathways will be developed by PHN with GP and Specialist input.

Anyone interested to be involved in planning this program should contact contact@hunterageingalliance.com or visit www.hunterageingalliance.com.