New research by the Institute of Public Health has found that healthcare professionals want more tailored training and support to help promote and improve physical activity levels in older adults.
The new research findings were launched by Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being, and National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan TD, on Wednesday, 27 October.
It is well-established that regular physical activity has many health benefits for older adults, from improving quality of life to preventing ill health.
National guidelines on physical activity in Ireland recommend, on a weekly basis, 150 minutes of moderate activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or an equivalent combination of both for older adults (65+ years).
However, data shows that less than half of older adults in Ireland and Northern Ireland were getting enough physical activity before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with more recent evidence pointing to falling physical activity levels during the pandemic.
While healthcare professionals are well-placed to promote physical activity to older adults, many say they do not have the necessary training and support to promote the health benefits of physical activity and weekly recommended guidelines to older patients.
As part of the Generating Active Lives in Older People (GALOP) research project, the Institute of Public Health (IPH) surveyed a cross-section of healthcare professionals about their knowledge and practice of promoting physical activity to older adults.
The online survey was carried out between August and October 2020 and the findings are based on responses from 347 healthcare professionals in general practice, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and nursing in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
While the majority of respondents agreed that discussing physical activity was part of their role, most indicated that they had not received suitable training to initiate discussions with patients.
Key findings from an online survey of 347 healthcare professionals in Ireland and Northern Ireland
Director of Ageing Research & Development at the Institute of Public Health, Professor Roger O’Sullivan, said the findings highlighted an opportunity for healthcare professionals to play a key role in promoting physical activity to older patients.
“There is a wealth of evidence showing that physically active older adults experience healthier ageing, a better quality of life, and are at lower risk of developing illnesses, than those who are not physically active. Physical activity levels, however, remain low among older adults in Ireland,” Professor O’Sullivan said.
“There is an opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults by increasing focus on prevention as well as treatment. This research highlights the need for appropriate supports and training to enable healthcare professionals to promote physical activity and national guidelines as part of routine patient care,” he added.
Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being, and National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan TD, welcomed the insights provided by the GALOP research project.
Minister Feighan said: “Promotion of physical activity for older adults is one of our main priorities in terms of the implementation of the National Physical Activity Plan. The research being launched today contains much positive news. It is encouraging that 42.7% of respondents are aware of the national guidelines on physical activity, and that 70.3% agreed that discussing physical activity is their job.”
“However, the research also shows clearly that many healthcare professionals need more training and support to initiate conversations with patients about physical activity. We will continue to work together with all of our stakeholders to support physical activity for older adults and I have no doubt that today’s research will provide very valuable insights for future action in this area.”