11 Aug

Europe Active's Active Ageing Communities - an interview with Professor Paulo Caserotti

By Laura Childs 11th Aug, 2023 Care Provider Leisure Rehabilitation

In one of our recent Innerva Interviews, David Heathcote, Head of Business Development at Innerva spoke with Professor Paolo Caserotti, Head of Centre for Active & Healthy Ageing at the University of Southern Denmark, about Europe Active’s two-year Active Ageing Communities programme, which was published earlier this year.

Paulo’s work has a focus around primary prevention, where the emphasis is to prolong independent living, reduce the risk of loss of dependency, understand which factors are associated with the loss of independency and by understanding these, set up a number of strategies and policies to maintain or promote independent living.

Paolo’s insights from the AAC programme are hugely important if, as a sector (and society) we are to engage and retain older exercisers in preventative exercise. Paulo’s interview explains the programme’s Four Pillars of: Education, Social Connection, Exercise and Behaviour Change, which resulted in a 90% adherence of older adults in a physical activity programmes.

The programme highlighted many good examples of good practice – but the ageing sector is not well developed within the fitness sector. The AAC programme focused on exploring what can be done to expand penetration amongst the older demographic, to build on existing knowledge and on successful projects around Europe.

The four pillars of the AAC Programme focused on:

1. Education - educating older adults about the body, about the changes that happen as they age; building on what the literature says. People don’t know that there are many things they can do to change the trajectory – that they can rejuvenate by exercising;
You can’t change your chronological age, but you can reduce your biological age;
Many people aren’t aware of this possibility. People are overwhelmed by the amount of information that is available on the internet and it’s confusing, so they switch off.

2. Social connectedness is hugely important – it supports adherence to any exercise programme and it is even more important for older adults. As an industry we need a ‘mind shift’.

We think generally health comes first, but when you turn 80, it becomes much more about feeling relevant and feeling part of something;

Research shows this as a primary motivator for many older adults and our own Innerva end user research backs this up.

3. Exercise – this is the pillar we are most aware of as a sector. Throughout the research programme the researchers tried not to interfere too much with the competencies that instructors have, but some components were essential.

most importantly, creating a fun and social element (and environment); the programme’s guidelines around strength training, aerobic training and balance training; along with additional components around things like power training and physical function that are crucial for this demographic.

If we want to truly have an impact from a (primary and secondary) prevention perspective (in a clinical and medical world). There is a requirement to speak a language that is understood – and have some additional skills for working with older adults.

4. Behaviour Change – this is always a little more complicated. There is a need to understand barriers for older adults and how to help them overcome these issues; understanding how other people deal with similar issues;
Trust is essential; creating an environment where older adults can open up and be confident to discuss the issues that they face when considering physical activity;

With an underserved and growing ageing population in Europe (and in fact worldwide) and a highly competitive market, leisure, retirement living and care operators should take this opportunity to access Europe Active’s best-practice resources and have a read of this hugely insightful research.

Europe Active have created a library of ‘best practice resources that are freely available for everyone working with older adults.

The argument is simple (as Paulo says) – we have a penetration rate of 9% in the ageing population across Europe – an extremely low number. There is an unmet possibility – one which is largely unexplored, but which has huge potential for expansion. Leisure centres are part of the community and should contribute to this challenge - for business, health and economic benefits.