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Helping Suffolk’s ageing population keep healthier

The Fit Villages project has had a positive impact on rural communities in Suffolk, highlighted in a recent University of East Anglia’s Report. The project has brought physical activity to villages with limited provision for people to be active or take part in regular exercise. The impact on the lives and individuals and communities has reached far beyond their physical wellbeing.

The well-established project run by Suffolk Sport in partnership, with Suffolk County Council and Sport England, has been running for over six years. A large academic evaluation was undertaken by the University of East Anglia’s, Norwich Medical School, covering an 18 month time period. The report showed:

• Participant’s weekly physical activity levels doubled over a six month period (moderate level)
• Time spent walking increased by thirty nine minutes a week over the same time period
• Decreased time spent sitting in a day by over thirty minutes.

Alongside their physical wellbeing participants also felt closer to the people they live near and meet with friends more often, building stronger communities and addressing issues of social isolation amongst older adults living in rural Suffolk.

It is expected that more than a quarter of Suffolk’s population will be aged over 65 in 20 years’ time which will inevitably have long term implications on public services. Currently over a quarter (26.5%) of adults are inactive with an associated health cost of this inactivity estimated at £17.7million each year in Suffolk. With 38% (twice the national average) of the Suffolk population living in rural areas the Fit Villages project is targeting communities most in need, seeking to address inactivity levels in older adults and helping to lessen implications on public services in the future.

Participants in the evaluation were also asked if they had any additional comments and four key benefits of the programme were;
Local classes; “I like it that the activity is in the village so no travelling”

Embracing diversity ; “I am very overweight and was very nervous about joining this group but the instructor and group made me feel completely at ease”

Fun, friendly environments; “It gives me a good workout in a fun way and I’ve met loads of new people. It’s a good laugh too”

Helping people with medical conditions; “I have Parkinson’s so for me this class has been fantastic. I struggled to get up before, but can now move around the house so much easier”

Tony Goldson Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health commented “We always knew that the opportunities that we are creating through the Fit Villages project benefited the participants, but thanks to this research from the University of East Anglia we now know the scale of the impact. Encouraging people to stay or become active as they age is an important priority for Suffolk and key to our long-term ambition of becoming the most active county in England.”

Earlier this year the Fit Villages project was nationally recognised winning a National Impact Award for Social and Community Development at an award ceremony in Nottingham. The next exciting chapter for Fit Villages is launching on Monday July 13th and is designed to explore ways to engage more men in local projects.

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