Active Living in Later Life – reflections from a knowledge exchange event

LHWKEWorkshop1As part of qualitative research on active ageing, funded through the UK Research Councils’ Lifelong Health and Wellbeing initiative and supported by EPIC-Norfolk, we organised a knowledge exchange workshop in April 2016.

Dissemination events usually either invite the public or engage with policymakers and practitioners. Instead, we decided to bring together the researchers, study participants and relevant stakeholders from policy and practice. The latter included Norfolk County Council, Age UK, Age Concern, Active Norfolk and Public Health England. Held at the Assembly House in Norwich, the event was a 2½ hour ‘learned lunch’ with formal and informal discussions.  We invited everyone to share reflections on our study findings, and co-develop ideas for interventions that reflect their experiences as users, facilitators or commissioners of such initiatives.

A few outcomes: Attendees responded most strongly to our finding that participants preferred purposeful, often incidental, activities, and that this could be an appealing way of promoting active living in later life. Ideas developed during the workshop included historical or botanical walks that combined intellectual stimulation, social interaction and exercise. Several policy attendees also commented that this ‘health by stealth’ idea could be useful in commissioning – ‘sneaking’ a physical activity initiative past politicians and constraints on budgets by packaging them as interventions for dementia or social isolation.

In response to our finding of the importance of the social context of active living, policymakers and practitioners were surprised to hear from members of the public that they are worried about initiatives that promote the grandparent role as a way to stay active. Grandchildren’s interest and capability for joint activities might be too short-lived to be a sustainable way of staying active in later life, and people might not have children or grandchildren in the first place.

Neither were they very keen on programmes specifically targeting older age groups, or featuring outdated ideas such as tea dances. Instead, attendees wanted to see programmes that mix different generations, perhaps – most sustainably –independent of existing social circles. One idea was a dog walking scheme that could connect elderly people with younger dog owners who needed help looking after their dog during the day.