Activating the elderly

Being physically active becomes particularly important when people age but still want to maintain their health and functional capacity. However, research shows that the majority of the elderly are not as physically active as their health requires. Helsinki has recognised that increasing the elderly’s physical activity and improving the exercising opportunities requires an approach that is considerably broader than just working out. 
Ping pong players.
Helsinki has implemented dozens of measures to promote the elderly being physically active. Photo: Maija Astikainen

In 2021, the physical activity of the elderly was made a city-wide budgetary goal for the promotion of health and well-being, and the goal was set again in 2022 and 2023. The goal will continue in 2024 as well. Every city division has contributed to the promotion of the physical activity of the elderly. The purpose of the cooperation is to remove obstacles hindering the elderly from being physically active. These obstacles include things such as an inaccessible environment, matters related to the availability of services, loneliness and lack of social support. A considerable portion of the elderly have trouble finding information about the existing services that could support their well-being.

Since 2021, Helsinki has implemented dozens of measures to promote the elderly being physically active. Measures related to the environment and being physically active in daily life include increasing the number of street and park benches by over 400, improving the conditions for walking and cycling and enhancing winter maintenance.

The measures implemented in the last few years to encourage the elderly to be more physically active have been diverse. Making exercise a topic of discussion and providing counselling related to physical activity have both been increased in the Senior Info advisory services. There have been extensive campaigns concerning the physical activity of the elderly, and the ‘Let everyday activate you’ communications campaign in 2021 reached an estimated 100,000 Helsinki residents. 

Libraries have been provided with 30 Senioriliikuntareppu exercise kits that can be borrowed and that contain sports equipment and easy instructions for organising exercise sessions. Several dozens of peer instructors for senior exercise have been trained, and many of the peer instructors operate in places such as service centres and community centres. Guided sports for the elderly have been developed in cooperation with the sports services, service centres, the adult education centre and Urheiluhallit Oy since 2021. A wide range of remote services that encourage people to be more physically active have also been produced. These include the Jumppahetki programme implemented in cooperation with Yle and the Seniorijumppa videos on the Helsinki Channel.

Furthermore, Helsinki has encouraged the elderly to start being more physically active and maintain their exercise routines through grants. In 2021 and 2022, dozens of organisations and associations received a total of EUR 3.4 million in grants, which were allocated to activities promoting the exercise- and culture-related endeavours of elderly Helsinki residents. In 2023, the appropriation for grants for the elderly’s cultural activities will total EUR 1.3 million while the grants for activities promoting physical activity will total EUR 700,000. The organisations and associations that receive the grants provide open and free-of-charge activities for senior Helsinki residents around the city.

Mobility agreement sets targets for daily physical activity

The use of the mobility agreement has spread from home care to all hospital, rehabilitation and care services. The aim is to achieve a 70-percent take-up rate. 

The mobility agreement supports elderly people’s ability to manage their life at home, and it encourages them to engage in daily physical activity to maintain their functional capacity, muscular strength and balance. The elderly can define their goals themselves, and the mobility agreement can include things such as doing daily chores, fitness training, re-learning old skills, engaging in hobbies and interacting with the world outside the home. The things recorded in the mobility agreement can be carried out independently or together with professionals or close relatives and friends who participate in the care and instruction.  

When the elderly person’s functional capacity changes, the mobility agreement is adjusted. The service-specific working models and instructions of the mobility agreement are actively being developed and specified in the hospital, rehabilitation and care services.  

Guided sports and cultural services

Since the pandemic, the elderly have found their way back relatively well to the guided sports organised by the sports services, the adult education centre and Arbis. However, the sports services’ goal for this year is to increase the occupancy rate and number of visitors of course-form exercise. The adult education centre and Arbis are striving to increase the number of dance and sports courses intended for seniors in 2023. 

In early 2023, a website related to cultural and leisure activities for the elderly was launched to facilitate access to information about the city’s various leisure services and opportunities intended for the elderly. The website contains information about sports and cultural services as well as ways to achieve a more communal daily life through hobby groups and meeting places. There is also information about remote services for the elderly through which culture and exercise can be enjoyed at home. Information about different sports services and opportunities for being physically active can also be accessed by phone in the Liikuntaluuri service.

Remote services to be available even after the pandemic

Remote services are being developed into a permanent part of the cultural and leisure services, even after the pandemic. The aim is to increase the selection of available remote services.

The production of remote services will be focused on the Lämpiö.fi platform to be launched in August, which will bring cultural and sports experiences to the homes of the elderly. In addition to content produced by the city, Lämpiö will have content from organisations and other operators.  

Digital support helps with everyday digital issues

The city’s digital support service advises on and helps with the use of remote services. The free-of-charge digital support is intended for both the elderly and all other city residents who need help with daily digital issues. The city offers digital support in many different languages. Digital support is available in libraries, community centres, senior and service centres, adult education centres and Arbis, among other places.

In addition to in-person support available at service points, digital support can also be a service provided at home in cooperation with HelsinkiMissio. In this form of digital support, volunteers help city residents with their digital issues in the residents’ own homes. Remote digital support is also available.

The operations of the digital support service are also being developed further; customer satisfaction surveys will be carried out several times this year.

Working for the improved quality of life of the elderly

There are still plenty of challenges and work to do in the promotion of physical activity for the elderly. Everyday mobility has a considerable impact on the functional capacity of the elderly, which is why the promotion of walking and the winter maintenance of streets, for example, are important. Information about the opportunities for being physically active and the other leisure services provided by the city must also be made more accessible to the elderly. Reaching lonely elderly people in particular still requires a lot of work.

Only about 25 per cent of Helsinki residents aged over 65 are sufficiently physically active. The number of people who could benefit from increased mobility is large, approximately 70,000–80,000 senior city residents. Therefore, physical activity and its positive effects have a major impact on the quality of life of a very large number of city residents. Work to improve the opportunities the elderly have to be physically active will be continued across division boundaries.