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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 10:58 GMT
Older people's health 'at risk'
Elderly man
Too many elderly people don't take enough exercise
The health of people over 65 is being put at serious risk because of poor diet and inactivity, a report says.

Age Concern said older people are not spending enough money on food, or taking enough exercise to stay healthy.

The report estimated the minimum weekly cost of a healthy diet to be 32.20 - but found those on lower incomes spend just 23.40.

It also found more than 90% of over-75s failed to take the amount of moderate exercise recommended to stay fit.

Older people on government minimum fixed incomes are not able to meet the minimum costs of a healthy life.
Professor Jerry Morris

The guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week.

Age Concern, who developed the report with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also found that 21% of over-65s cannot walk 200m without stopping or experiencing discomfort.

The researchers said older people could exercise for as little as 2.10 a week.

Cost of health

Overall the report calculated that the total minimum weekly amount needed to meet healthy living costs for a single person over 65 in England was 122.70, and 192.60 for a couple.

Major progress has been made in promoting health
Department of Health

This includes include food, exercise costs such as leisure centre visits, housing maintenance, dental and eye care costs and membership of social clubs.

The charity called on the government to tackle pensioner poverty and promote health living in later life.

It also called on local authorities to provide accessible and affordable leisure activities close to where old people live.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: "While younger generations are increasingly encouraged to lead healthier lifestyles, the health needs of older people have been routinely overlooked.

"Inadequate income clearly has a major impact on the health of the nation's people in later life, but urgent action to tackle barriers, such as poor health awareness and access to health and leisure facilities, is also needed."

Professor Jerry Morris, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "While we are being urged to make healthy choices in the way we lead our lives, older people on government minimum fixed incomes are not able to meet the minimum costs of a healthy life.

"The government must ensure all older people can afford to live healthy lives and so remove the cause of the inequalities that blight the nation's health."

Government response

Stephen Timms, Minister for Pensions and Reform said the government had made big steps in tackling pensioner poverty.

He said: "The proportion of pensioners living in low-income households has fallen by two thirds since 1997 - lifting almost two million pensioners out of absolute poverty.

The average pensioner household is 1,400 per year (27 per week) better off during 2005-6 as a result of our tax and benefit changes than under the 1997 system. The least well-off third are 1,900 (37 per week) better off."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Major progress has been made in promoting health, with increased uptake of vaccination against flu, breast cancer screening and smoking cessation.

"Councils, together with the local NHS and other partners, are implementing plans to enhance the health, independence and well-being of older people as active citizens in their local communities."

Age Concern has launched special centres in Hull, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames to offer affordable leisure activities, such as yoga classes, for people over 50.


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