Fear of injury preventing over 55s benefiting from exercise

One in 10 Brits over the age of 55 say that fear of injury holds them back from joining a gym/attending the gym more regularly, according to a recent survey.

The results reveal that worryingly, almost half of Brits over 55 years old (48%) don’t believe that exercise is an important part of lifestyle for their age group, and only half (52%) believe that exercise is essential for ensuring good bone density when getting older.

This comes despite evidence showing older adults who participate in physical activity maintain not just good physical function but also good cognitive function, with more physical activity providing greater health benefits. Poor muscle strength has also been shown to increase the risk of a fall by 76% in older adults[1].

Given the benefits of exercise for older adults, we conducted a survey amongst 2,000 Brits aged 55+ to explore attitudes to exercise and what’s holding them back from joining a gym. 

Jonathan Davies, OBE, former Wales rugby international, who’s supporting our campaign to encourage exercise in the over 55s, said: "Maintaining bone and muscle strength as we age is critical, not only to ensure we can continue to live life to the full physically, but also to maintain mental health. So its worrying that almost half of us over 55s don't believe exercise is important.

"Joining a gym later on in life can be daunting though, particularly after any operations or injuries. After my hip replacement a few years ago, going back to the gym wasn't easy. I was worried about injuring myself but I knew I needed to build muscle strength back up as I'd committed to a big charity bike ride. It was as much a mental challenge to overcome as a physical one, but I've gone on to do two charity cycle rides since then. 

"Something like a Health MOT, or a personal training session, can give confidence to overcome inhibitions and ensure you're working in the right way with, rather than against, your body."

To stay healthy or to improve health, older adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic exercise and strength (also known as resistance) exercises. However of those surveyed, almost one in five (19%) wrongly thought they should avoid resistance training as they age.

Joint pain also proved to be a confusing problem when it came to older people considering exercise: one in four (26%) surveyed believed it best to avoid resistance exercise completely when suffering from joint pain, while almost half (45%) didn’t know what exercises to avoid with joint pain. Likewise for other health conditions with almost one in 10 (8%) believing they should avoid the gym if suffering from heart problems or diabetes.

Our Fitness Lead, Stephen Macconville, said: “It’s concerning that so many older people think they should avoid resistance training when they have joint pain, or avoid the gym completely with a health condition. The reality is that exercise can be an important part of preventing and managing illness as well as rehabilitating after injury.  For those who have experienced joint pain, you can find a clinically devised workout plan here: https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/article/18-exercises-to-strengthen-your-joints.”

Stephen continued: “It’s also worrying that one in three (38%) older people felt that a personal trainer is only for young people or that a young personal trainer couldn’t relate to older people.  A personal trainer can be invaluable in helping tailor a workout suitable to any age and any existing health/mobility issues.”

Of those surveyed who did attend a gym, aside from exercise, the reasons for joining included: to beat stress (50%), to socialise or make new friends (47%) and to help them sleep better (45%).

To help encourage people to start on their fitness journey, we are offering a 1-day trial voucher, valid at any of its consumer clubs across the UK.  It is available to download here: https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/free-pass. Members receive a free, comprehensive, hour-long Health MOT every three months as part of their membership.

About the surveyThe survey was carried out on behalf of Nuffield Health by OnePoll.  2,000 Brits aged 55+ were surveyed online between 6th December and 12th December 2018.  

Last updated Tuesday 29 January 2019

First published on Tuesday 29 January 2019