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WATCH: Dig your plimsolls out! Over-50s urged to take up sport in fight against loneliness

Event organiser Sophie Barber with Paul Kendrick who takes part in the ActivLives programme. 
Picture: Nick Butcher

Event organiser Sophie Barber with Paul Kendrick who takes part in the ActivLives programme. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Older people in Ipswich are being encouraged to take part in the ActivLives sessions.

On the face of it, it seems like nothing more than a light-hearted game of tennis.

But dig a little deeper and it soon becomes clear these sports sessions are not only helping to keep over-50s active, but also beating the county’s growing loneliness epidemic.

ActivLives, a charity which aims to boost health in Suffolk through greater physical activity, began running sessions such as yoga and boccia thanks to a Lottery grant.

When the four-year term of the funding ended, the organisation was able to keep some of the activities going without a grant – building on the 2,000 people it had already got playing sport.

Residents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people.
Picture: Nick ButcherResidents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people. Picture: Nick Butcher

As a result older people can play short tennis, ping pong, badminton and walking football at sports and community centres every week, with participants such as 67-year-old Paul Turnell, from Bramford, saying: “I find I look forward to it each day.

“I come to quite a few sessions and I’m keen to do as many activities as possible.”

Speaking at a short tennis and ping pong session at Gainsborough Sports and Community Centre, Mr Turnell said playing sport has greatly improved his reaction times.

But one of the main purposes of taking part is that they are “very sociable too”, with Mr Turnell adding: “You get to talk and meet lots of people and there is a good crowd here.”

Residents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people.
 Picture: Nick ButcherResidents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people. Picture: Nick Butcher

Mike McCarthy, project manager for the Everyday ActivIpswich programme, is now encouraging people like Mr Turnell to “dig your plimsolls out” to take part.

He believes the sessions will not only help with participants’ physical health but ensure they are happier, by giving them social interaction with others that they might not previously have had.

“The sort of feedback we get is that people enjoy the activities and the physical side but they also like the networking,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Meeting new people - that side of things people really enjoy. It’s something they really look forward to.

Residents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people.
 Picture: Nick ButcherResidents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people. Picture: Nick Butcher

“Nationally, there aren’t many weeks when there aren’t features about increasing levels of obesity and loneliness.

“You also have an increasingly transient population. Their family aren’t necessarily with them.

“You get a lot of people who come to our programmes who all have a story to tell about why they got involved.

“The common denominator is that something has changed for them.

Residents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people. 
Picture: Nick ButcherResidents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people. Picture: Nick Butcher

“They’re looking for something to stimulate them again and get them back into the community.”

He added that his message is for people to “come and have a go and don’t worry about how good you are”, adding: “This is a dig your plimsolls out sort of programme.”

Studies have shown chronic loneliness is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day - and is a growing problem, particularly for older people or

in rural areas.

Residents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people.Residents of Ipswich taking part in the ActivLives programme that encourages activity in older people.

But as more than half of adults say they would struggle to admit to being lonely, it can be difficult to combat.

The problem is often compounded in rural areas such as Suffolk, with many people moving to the area in retirement but often not having family around to support them.

Jayne Lowe, 61, from the Pinewood area of Ipswich, said: “It’s hard to keep moving once you’re retired.

“I come every week - it gets you up and going somewhere. It’s better than staying in.”

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