Understanding and informing the benefits of sport and physical activity-based programmes for older women in the UK and Japan

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hertfordshire
Department Name: School of Life and Medical Sciences

Abstract

During 1946-1964 there was a significant increase in the birthrate in many countries largely attributed to a positive sense of hope and possibility following the Second World War. Those born in this period came to be known as the "baby boom generation," reaching retirement age in the early twenty-first century. Japan and the UK are two of the nations most affected by this dramatic demographic shift to an ageing population: Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world, while European countries have the highest percentage of older people in the world and the UK's life expectancy is only slightly lower than that of Japan. The proposed research seeks to share and improve understanding of the benefits and constraints on engagement in physical activity and sports for ageing populations, giving particular attention to the experiences of older women, including those living with dementia, who have been relatively neglected in gerontological research.

In both countries, attempts to support the ageing population through social care programmes have been deemed unsustainable and so there has been a turn to neoliberalism with expectations that older people will take care of themselves in later life and not become a burden on the state. One way of doing this is through the promotion of physical activity and sports as a way of maintaining health and functional ability in later life. However, research findings indicate that the majority of older people are insufficiently active to benefit their health, and women are less active than men.

The first aim of the proposed research network is to share knowledge about the barriers and benefits of physical activity, giving specific attention to older women in both countries. A particular focus of the physical activity recommendations is an emphasis on the social benefits of such programmes for women who are often isolated in later life. There is convincing evidence that women are more likely to participate in physical activity programmes that emphasize social interaction; and that active social involvement contributes to health, longevity, and well-being. The research will develop from a pilot survey of members of Curves (a global women-only fitness provider) which has been completed in Japan, analysing the preliminary findings to inform a wider study in Japan and the UK focusing on the ways in which membership of a women-only fitness organisation can provide older women with social benefits such as enhanced life satisfaction and subjective well-being, and reduced loneliness in later life.

The second aim of the proposed research network is to develop understanding regarding the use of sports and physical activity to help tackle problems such as poor mental health and dementia. In particular, the research is informed by a small, but growing, number of projects that encourage reminiscence by drawing on sporting memories as a focus for supporting older persons living with dementia. These engage older people in social activities that focus on recalling memories of watching or playing sports. Research into the effectiveness of sports-based projects to support those with dementia is in early stages, but preliminary evidence suggests that programmes that trigger memories have a positive effect. The proposed network has support in principle of Watford Football Club Trust (an English Premier League club which is in the process of setting up a football reminiscence project for people living with dementia), and the Japan Sport Club Association (which will sponsor reminiscence activities related to the past successes of Japanese athletes). The research will take the form of preliminary interviews with providers of established reminiscence projects and dementia charities working with Watford and the Japan Sport Club Association to inform the development of sporting reminiscence projects for older women living with dementia in both countries.

Planned Impact

The UK and Japan have both adopted physical activity guidelines for people over 65, including the number of steps taken daily and regular exercise. The 2012 National Health and Nutrition Survey in Japan showed that the majority of Japanese adults perform inadequate amounts of exercise. Those over 60 were averaging less than half the recommended number of steps per day, and fewer than 50 percent of those in this age group were categorized as regular exercisers, with significantly lower figures for women than men. Similarly in the UK, a 2015 report by the British Heart Foundation found that just over half of people aged 65-74 in England were meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines, but that this declined to 36 percent of men and 18 percent of women over age 75. The figures are also significantly lower in other parts of the United Kingdom. The outcomes of the planned activities will lead to improved understanding of the effective promotion of physical activity and sports as a way of maintaining health and functional ability in later life. Specifically in Japan, the project will address the understanding that sports are seen as having "supportive qualities for the three Ks: kenko (health), keizai (economics), and kokoro no hari (determination, or spirit).

The network will undertake collaborative research into the constraints, opportunities and experiences of older women in relation to sporting physical activity, bearing in mind the evidence that women generally outlive their male peers but are often marginalized and less likely to gain the benefits of physical activity. This data will be collected from members of Curves (a global network of women-only fitness centres) - the Japanese co-investigator has an established link with this organization and has commenced a pilot study with Japanese members, and it is intended to build from this for a wider study in Japan and the UK. These preliminary findings will inform a more extensive research grant application to develop evidence-based physical activity projects for older women in the UK and Japan. The outcomes of this survey will be fed-back to Curves, and more widely to fitness providers, through a published report and media releases, to inform more appropriate provision of physical activity for older women in both countries.

The network will further contribute to an enhanced understanding of the effectiveness of sports-based projects to support those living with dementia, with a view to sharing knowledge and expertise to inform a future research grant application to establish an evidence-based sporting reminiscence project in both countries. As the research team will be working with Watford Football Club Trust and the Japan Sport Club Association during the early stages of setting up their reminiscence projects, this will enable the preliminary findings of the research network to inform the final delivery of the reminiscence project in each location.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description New knowledge: At the start of this project, a key focus was better understanding of the work of Dementia Friendly Communities, particularly with regards to the role of sport and physical activity within these communities. There was particularly limited understanding of Dementia Friendly Communities in Japan. The shared understanding of the new reminiscence programme in the UK provided the foundations for a preliminary study in Japan with active people. This was presented at the research team meeting in September 2019 and has now been applied to a sport-related action research project for people living with dementia in Japan.

New networks: An outcome of the focus on Dementia Friendly Communities has developed the network in both countries to include practitioners, policy-makers and service users who are keen to better understand the research undertaken to date by the research team and contribute to future projects. The research team have formed a new Research Unit in Sport, Physical Activity and Ageing, and have been awarded further funding to extend the research into physical activity in Dementia Friendly Communities.

Improved research skills: An important element of this project was the development of Early Career Researchers. In the final meeting of the research team, these researchers indicated that they had developed significant skills through their participation in this project, including through the delivery of international conference presentations, chairing sessions, learning networking skills, and working collaboratively on planned outputs.
Exploitation Route The work with Dementia Friendly Communities provided the foundations for a funded research project which bring together academics, practitioners, policy-makers and service users to better understand the provision, experiences and benefits of sport and physical activity within Dementia Friendly Communities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

URL https://www.herts.ac.uk/research/centres/psychology/research-unit-in-sport-physical-activity-and-ageing-runspaa
 
Description The research network has enabled enhanced shared understanding of the experiences and potential benefits of sporting reminiscence programmes for people living with dementia and their carers. This informed the partnership with Watford Football Club Community Sports and Education Trust, and their development of the Golden Memories programme (outlined in the section on Partnerships and Collaboration). This informed activities when the research team met in Japan in September 2019 which included meetings with experts and practitioners involved in Dementia Friendly Communities. An outcome of the research network has been enhanced understanding of Dementia Friendly Communities in both countries with the development of sport-related programmes, and some preliminary investigations which informed a successful research grant application related to this area of work.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Golden Memories - research informed development of a continuation programme
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Golden Memories 
Organisation Watford Football Club Community Sports and Education Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research team is collaborating with Watford Football Club Community Sports and Education Trust to lead on the research related to their new "Golden Memories" programme. This is a reminiscence programme for people living with dementia.
Collaborator Contribution Watford Football Club Community Sports and Education Trust hosts and leads on the delivery of the "Golden Memories" programme and provides access to the programme participants to the research team.
Impact The Golden Memories programme and preliminary research findings were presented at the International Conference on Sport and Physical Activity for Older Adults. The conference had to be re-scheduled as a 'virtual' conference due to escalating concerns about the Coronavirus, but the resources have been shared, and the conference will either be re-scheduled (depending on the situation with Coronavirus) and/or materials will be uploaded to a bespoke website.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Local Borough Council 
Organisation Stevenage Borough Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The research team were responsible for providing the content and giving guidance on the design of a booklet mapping local dementia friendly activities.
Collaborator Contribution The council were involved in the design and formatting of the booklet, organised an easy-read version of the booklet, provided and distributed hard copies of the booklet, coordinated a press-release and are currently hosting the online versions on the Healthy Stevenage website.
Impact The production of a booklet (hard copy and online) about dementia friendly activities available in Stevenage. https://www.stevenage.gov.uk/leisure-culture-and-wellbeing/making-stevenage-a-dementia-friendly-community
Start Year 2021
 
Description Blog on meeting of research team 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Blog on Dementia Friendly Communities - UK and Japan NIHR CLAHRC East of England. Follow up queries for further information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.clahrc-eoe.nihr.ac.uk/2019/10/13462/
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A six minute pre-recorded summary of the research project was presented at a hybrid format University of Hertfordshire Health and Social Work conference. This provided an opportunity for colleagues across the school of Health and Social Work to ask questions about the research, including where the physical activity booklet will be available in the community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5diKLSC5psA
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Pike, E. (2020). Invited Speaker. Sport, Ageing and Adaptation. Yokohama Sport Conference, Japan
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participated in a panel talk with two organisations about inclusive physical activity. This provided an opportunity to talk to physical activity providers about ways in which activities can be inclusive for people living with dementia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pike, E. (2020). Invited Speaker. ResHERch: Research trends in female sport. Women and Girls in Sport: Imagine. Believe. Achieve. Sport and Recreation Alliance, UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited speaker - workship 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pike, E. (2021). Invited Speaker. Physical Activity and Social Connectivity in Older Adults Living with Dementia. Live Longer Better in Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire Sports Partnership Launch Event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Keynote speech 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote speech on "Sport and Citizenship in Ageing Societies" at the International Forum for Sport, Physical Education and Citizenships, Taiwan. Discussion following the presentation with invitations to collaborate with colleagues in other countries on future research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Keynote speech 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Keynote speech on "The Nexus of Gender, Aging and Exercise" at a research seminar of the Japanese Center for Research on Women in Sport. Discussion following the presentation, which informed the development of the research network and activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Pre-conference panel discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was a panel discussion prior to the World Congress of the Sociology of Sport in Dunedin, New Zealand. The focus of the discussion related to the theme of "The power of sport as a tool to create positive social change for women and girls in society". The other panel members included the Sports Minister for New Zealand, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, and the Chair of the International Working Group on Women and Sport. The discussion was reported in the press and social media. There have been subsequent invitations for the Principal Investigator to deliver keynote presentations related to this research project at three forthcoming international conferences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A 30 minute discussion with people affected by Parkinson's about the research. This prompted many questions about their local town as a dementia friendly community and the services available.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022