A report out this week* vindicates the continued distribution of free bus passes to the over-60s. It would seem that, even in a recession, the benefits to the nation outweigh the cost. The bus passes cost taxpayers £1.6 billion a year, and have been a target for campaigners seeking to cut the national expenditure. However, it turns out that those pensioners who use their bus passes are also likely to walk more and take other exercise.

This is not so surprising really. We most of us have experience of clients who at first were loath to keep moving, but once they got started, began to enjoy it and increase their activity level further unbidden. As we get older, there is a natural tendency to slow down, and increasingly limit our horizons. Probably in the caveman age, that was necessary to preserve old age. But now, with weaker family networks and greater isolation, it is much more important for older people to get out more, and exercise for social as well as physical reasons. Exercise and socialisation are both considered to help ward off dementia, as well as depression and loneliness. We can provide as many council-run classes as we like, but without the transport provided, how feasible will they be?

I have run exercise classes for stroke survivors, as well as one for their carers. Interestingly, they were equally well attended and popular. When the charity had to review its spending, the carers’ class was at risk of closure, because it was deemed by the finance committee as less important than the main class. Fortunately the committee was overruled and both classes continued and flourished. Now the group runs two of each per week, and the carers have become a more pro-active group, involved in many aspects of the charity. Lives have been if not turned around then subtly altered – through exercise.

 

My  favourite activities to bring to older clients unused to regular exercise:

Swimming

Weight lifting

Pad boxing

Nordic Walking

I also like to include balance exercises, some lower body impact eg low hurdles, and bodyweight exercises. My older clients love being taken seriously, and not passed over for any of these.

I hope that bus passes – at least  for those who would hesitate to spend out on bus fares without one – will continue to be provided, so that exercise does not become something only for the well-heeled (excuse pun).

*from a research project by the School of Public Health at Imperial College 2012