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Insight into the lives of older Bristolians

Press release issued: 5 September 2008

The early results of a University of Bristol project examining the lives of older people in Bristol will be presented at the 37th conference of the British Society of Gerontology at the University of the West of England.

Project OPAL (Older People and Active Living) is a two-year, Bristol-based project funded by the  National Prevention Research Initiative.  It aims to investigate the determinants and consequences of physical activity in people aged 70 and above with particular emphasis on understanding the effect that the characteristics of their neighbourhoods have on older people's activity.

The researchers, led by Professor Ken Fox of Bristol’s Department of Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, have worked closely with 240 older people aged between 70 and 96 from 12 different neighbourhoods around Bristol.  These neighbourhoods vary according to level of deprivation and amenities.  The researchers have closely assessed activity using accelerometry and GPS; examined purposes of daily journeys, physical function and mental well-being; and evaluated perception of the neighbourhood characteristics.

The work has also involved interviewing 45 of the participants at length.  This has provided a wealth of insight into older Bristolians lives and the factors that influence their activity and quality of life.

Professor Fox said: “The recent Chief Medical Officer’s report ‘At least five a week’ established preventive and therapeutic benefits of physical activity for older people for a wide range of physical and mental diseases and conditions.  However, little is known about the daily patterns of physical activity of older people and how characteristics of their neighbourhoods influence their activity.

“Older people find it difficult to build sufficient activity into the lives. Our project is designed to provide a solid foundation on which to build programmes and policy to improve the physical activity levels of older people as the benefits are profound.”

Project OPAL is funded by the British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK; Department of Health; Diabetes UK; Economic and Social Research Council; Medical Research Council; Research and Development Office for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services; Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government Health Department; Welsh Assembly Government and World Cancer Research Fund. 

The symposium ‘Getting out and about: the role of physical activity and neighbourhood in older people’s lives’ takes place today as part of Sustainable Futures in an Ageing World, the 37th Conference of the British Society of Gerontology, co-hosted by the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.

The conference runs from Thursday 4 September to Saturday 6 September 2008 at the Frenchay Campus, University of the West of England, Bristol.

Also at the conference this week, The Policy Press, based at the University of Bristol, launched two books in their Ageing and Lifecourse series.

Rural ageing: A good place to grow old? edited by Norah Keating addresses a growing international interest in 'age-friendly' communities, examining the conflicting stereotypes of rural communities as either idyllic and supportive or isolated and bereft of services.

Ageing in a consumer society: From passive to active consumption in Britain by Ian Rees Jones, Martin Hyde, Christina R. Victor, Richard D. Wiggins, Chris Gilleard and Paul Higgs provides a unique critical perspective on the changing nature of later life by examining the engagement of older people with consumer society in Britain since the 1960s.

Both books are available from The Policy Press.

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