Scientists are calling on public health agencies across the UK to launch a National COVID-19 Resilience Programme to support older people through the pandemic and to keep them healthy during the winter months.
The recommendation has been made in a new report by The Physiological Society and Centre for Ageing Better, set to be launched today at a Parliamentary and Scientific Committee meeting.
Twenty scientist and clinicians involved in the project say the programme would bring together a package of measures to support older people through the lockdown and beyond.
These include a tailored exercise programme focused on older people with COVID-19 risk factors; clear guidance about the importance of a healthy balanced diet; the creation of virtual communities to enhance mental health and counter social isolation; and enlisting the help of relatives and volunteers to support behaviour change among older people.
Paul Greenhaff, a Professor of Muscle Metabolism at the University of Nottingham and co-chair of the project, said: “With England now in its second lockdown it is likely that people across the country will be less physically active. Physical activity is an important factor in staying healthy and resilient and will help protect against risks from COVID-19.”
Polling carried out by YouGov for the project found that almost one in three older people did less physical activity during the first lockdown in March. Of those, 43% said that this was because they no longer had a reason, or had less reason, to get out of the house and be active; 32% were worried about catching Covid-19; and 29% reported lacking motivation to exercise.
Professor Greenhaff added: “Lockdowns, while important to reduce transmission of Covid-19, can have a detrimental effect on both the physical and mental health of older people. These changes happen rapidly: within three days of not using muscles, people can experience significant decreases in muscle mass and quality which might be the difference of an older people being able to get out of a chair by themselves or not.
“We are calling on public health agencies to urgently address this by launching a National Covid-19 Resilience Programme to support older people through the pandemic. Older people need clear, tailored guidance, about how to keep healthy and resilient, that covers physical activity, nutrition and mental wellbeing.
“Older people are facing this lockdown as the days are getting shorter and colder and therefore we must all re-double efforts to keep older people healthy.”