Find out more
- Age UK – One Step at a Time – Encouraging Older Adults to be Active
- Carers UK – Carers and Physical Activity Report
- Centre for Ageing Better - Physical Activity
- Sport England- Spotlight on Older Adults and their relationship with sport and physical activity
- Sport England - Active Ageing Prospectus
- UK Coaching - We Are Undefeatable toolkit
Staying active can become harder as we age, but it’s increasingly important. Active Lives data shows that almost one-third of people aged 55-74 are inactive, a proportion which increased to two-thirds for adults aged 85+.
As the population ages, an inclusive approach to activities and volunteering opportunities can help your organisation attract a range of people, from all backgrounds and age groups. This page explores some of the factors that may impact participation or volunteering for older adults and steps you can take to become more accessible.
There are many benefits to being an inclusive and accessible organisation, which are explored in more detail on our ‘Creating an inclusive environment’ webpage, including:
- Supporting your organisation’s growth and sustainability.
- Placing your organisation at the heart of the community.
- Becoming a more diverse organisation.
Older adults and physical activity
The term ‘older adults’ refers to a wide age range, from people in their fifties who are still working and are unlikely to think of themselves as “older”, to people who are much older and may face health-related issues, including living with long-term health conditions and being at greater risk of falls.
Activity levels or volunteering commitments for older adults can be affected by different factors and understanding these can help your organisation tailor your offer to meet their specific needs. Examples of motivations and barriers have been explored below, but it’s important to note that these can differ greatly across older adults. It can be useful to consult and engage with participants and volunteers individually, to understand their needs on a personal level.
- Social opportunities
- Whilst older people may recognise the health benefits of being active, this alone isn’t always enough to encourage activity. Some older adults may be more interested in finding ways to stay connected, socialise with others and reduce feelings of isolation.
- Physical health improvement
- The positive impact of being active on people’s health is well-documented, from reducing the risk of specific conditions and diseases to improving mobility.
- Mental wellbeing
- Participating or volunteering with an organisation can encourage feelings of purpose or belonging, support older adults to develop a new daily routine and help them retain a sense of independence.
- Health issues
- Our population is ageing, but our ‘healthy life expectancy’ isn’t increasing at the same rate. This means people might live with disabilities or long-term health conditions for longer, making it more difficult to be active. For information and case studies, explore the ‘We Are Undefeatable’ campaign.
- Psychological barriers
- Some older people may fear physical activity or feel they aren’t capable of participating. This is particularly relevant for those with health conditions, who may fear making their condition worse or risking injury.
- Care or family commitments
- It shouldn’t be assumed that older people have more free time. Some will still be in employment, whilst others might have time consuming responsibilities like looking after grandchildren, informal care duties or existing volunteering roles. The ‘Carers and Physical Activity’ report from Carers UK provides further insight on this.
- Older people will have varying financial situations. Some may still be working or living on a comfortable pension, but this will not be the case for everyone.
- Social attitudes
- For older adults that aren’t already active or part of an organisation, taking the first step towards this can be daunting. They might feel exercise is ‘not for them’, which can sometimes be down to marketing imagery or wording. For example, words like ‘sporty’ or ‘exercise’ can be off-putting for some.
- Getting to and from activity venues can pose difficulties for some. This could be impacted by different factors, like unreliable public transport or walking time between facilities and car parks / transport links.
Becoming accessible to older people
For busy organisations, becoming more inclusive might feel like extra work on top of lots of other priorities. However, even though your organisation may need to make adjustments, these don’t need to be significant changes made all at once. Below are some suggestions on making your organisation more accessible for older adults.
Increase your organisation’s awareness of older adults:
- Find out more about motivations and barriers that might affect older adults in your local area and explore any insight available. Use the links on this page to help you get started.
- Reach out locally to find out what might encourage older people to get involved. Encourage existing participants and volunteers to talk to older adults they know or contact local organisations, like Age UK branches or specific interest groups who already work this audience.
Consider how you operate:
- Review your practices and procedures from an older adult’s perspective. Does anything feel off-putting or concerning? For example, not having flexible membership options might discourage people with long-term health conditions or caring responsibilities that can’t attend every week.
- Flexible membership or fee structures could also support older adults to join your organisation regardless of their financial situation.[Encourage older adults to become part of your organisation’s workforce. This promotes diversity of thought and experience across your organisation and ensures the viewpoint of older adults is considered in decision-making.
- Breaking volunteering roles down into tasks can help get people involved whilst avoiding heavy individual workloads.
Embed inclusivity in your offer by reacting to motivations and barriers:
- Consider introducing activities and sessions that work to address barriers. This could include ability or age specific sessions (like Over 50s), walking or chair-based activities for people with lower mobility, or sessions that are designed to be informal, sociable and enjoyable with no prior experience or ability needed. Setting aside time before or after sessions for socialising may also be popular.
- However, don’t assume that older adults don’t want variety and progression in their activities; try to cater to different fitness, capability and confidence levels.
- Ensure you have enough volunteers, staff or coaches available at all sessions, to provide the best experience for older adults who might require additional support.
- Encourage coaches and volunteers to take the time to understand the needs of new participants. Find out about their goals, previous experiences of being active, and how you can help them along the way.
- Provide information and communications that address any potential barriers, such as what to wear and how to get to the venue. Consider providing a map or public transport routes.
Consider your facilities from an older adult’s perspective:
- Offering support or making small adaptations, like having someone on hand before and after sessions to help those with mobility issues to access facilities, can help people feel more comfortable.
- Depending on your location, travelling to sessions may be a barrier for some. If this is a problem for any participants or volunteers, work with them to find a solution and try to make the opportunities you offer as local as possible. You could also consider partnering with a relevant organisation to offer transport if this is appropriate, or setting up a buddy system so that willing participants or volunteers drive others to sessions.
- Consider how the wider environment of your facilities impacts older adults. For example, if you use space in a sports complex that is busy at peak times, consider offering sessions during quieter periods.
- Older adults might already pursue activities in other venues that suit their needs. By working with organisations like community centres, local churches and specific interest groups who already engage with older adults, you may be able to take your offer directly to them in familiar, suitable facilities.
Think about how you approach marketing and communications:
- Use positive, aspirational and achievable messages and imagery that alleviate concerns and champion the opportunities and benefits of taking part, like socialising or trying something new. Research from Age UK highlights how different people respond to messaging about activity.
- Use your marketing and communications to show, not just tell, people that your offer is achievable, accessible, simple, social and, most of all, fun. Using fun, positive images that reflects your audience will support this. Where possible, offer reassurances about their safety and try to avoid words like ‘sport’, as this can put people off.
- Use imagery and language that is relatable for older adults. If you already have older adults involved with your organisation, using images of them in your marketing (with their permission) demonstrates that you cater for different age groups. If this isn’t possible, the Centre for Ageing Better has a library of images that are free for use. Click here to access the library and read its terms and conditions.
- Older adults might not be looking for a sports organisation to join, so be proactive with marketing. Creating relationships with local organisations can help as they might invite you to promote your organisation through them or distribute information for you.
- Ask existing participants to share testimonials about the benefits of getting involved – for example, improved mood or sleep, greater functional ability to do everyday tasks, and getting the strength and fitness to continue doing things they enjoy.
- Don’t forget the personal touch. Some older adults might be less comfortable engaging with your organisation online. Use different methods to keep in touch with them such as phone calls and face-to-face contact, especially when they first join.
Findings from the 10 Today programme, an initiative designed by and for older people to keep them physically active, highlights how the programme was designed to meet the needs of older people. Click here to find out more about this programme.