Lack of exercise bigger killer than smoking, ageing forum told

It is never too late for the elderly to start exercising. This can help the wheelchair-bound gain enough muscle and balance to get up and walk and tighten their muscles so that they no longer suffer from incontinence, said a speaker at an ageing conference.

Ms Lena Karjaluoto, chief executive officer of HUR, a major maker of exercise equipment for the elderly, said nobody is ever too old to exercise.

In fact, a lack of physical exercise is more harmful than smoking, she told the 360 participants from 13 countries at the two-day 5th Ageing Asia Investment Forum at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.

Each year, 5.3 million people die from physical inactivity compared to 5.1 million who die from tobacco-related causes, she said, quoting World Health Organisation figures. Deaths from a lack of exercise are also about four times the 1.2 million from road accidents each year.

Older people who do strength training are also less likely to fall, she added.

In Singapore, some homes have tried to get their elderly clients to be more active.

Peacehaven Nursing Home, for instance, did a three-month exercise trial for 15 patients. Its executive director, Madam Low Mui Lang, said the mood of six participants improved, and several could walk for longer distances and had more strength in their grip.

But more trials are needed as a group of 15 people is too small to draw statistically significant conclusions, she said.

At the forum, ex-Nominated Member of Parliament Kanwaljit Soin urged countries with ageing populations to rethink the role of older people and retirement.

Countries have "people living longer, not ageing societies", she said. Having people retire at 65 "is one of the biggest brain drains we have", she said, adding that the cost of a population ageing can be offset by longer working lives.

Mr David Lane, from an architectural firm in Australia, asked whether caregivers are giving seniors what they want, or just providing security and health-care.

He said the difference between an institution and a homely environment is residents' ability to make decisions. Do the elderly just eat what is put before them, or can they choose from a menu - even just three choices - and eat when they want to, he asked.

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