The role of physical activity in addressing loneliness and isolation has been brought sharply in to focus at a special event in the county.
National and local experts in wellbeing, communities and physical activity were at Wherstead Park in Ipswich yesterday attending the 6th Most Active County Conference, to discuss how sport and physical activity can be used to bring people together and break down barriers.
With loneliness said to affect over 9 million adults in the UK, sport and physical activity is seen as a social solution that has the power to bring people together regardless of background, age, gender, ethnicity or religion.
Cllr James Reeder, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health, who addressed the conference, said “one of the huge strengths of sport and physical activity is the contribution it can make to other important priorities such as the economy, educational performance, the health and care system and, of course, the subject of this event, combating loneliness and isolation”.
“We now know that isolation, loneliness and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse for you than obesity. Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression and they have a 29% increased risk of early death.”
“Sport and physical activity give people and communities a reason to come together, kick-starting friendships and strengthening social networks which, in turn, start to breakdown feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Cllr Reeder also hailed local efforts to address inactivity by revealing that latest Sport England data shows that Suffolk is officially increasing the percentage of people meeting recommended physical activity levels quicker than any other county in the country.
He said “This is fantastic news and a real shot in the arm for our collective ambition of Suffolk ultimately becoming the most active county in England. It is great testament to the many organisations in the county who provide so many opportunities for people to be active.”
The event featured detailed insight of the issue, key statistics and examples of good practice. One of the examples to be showcased was Sporting Memories which has taken a strong foothold in libraries and community settings across Suffolk over the last year.
Tony Jameson-Allen, co-founder of the Sporting Memories Network, said “Sporting Memories uses the power of sport to reignite and reconnect isolated older people, especially those living with dementia, depression and loneliness. Our experience from the 110 free to access community clubs that we run across the UK is that sport is a very powerful tool in helping people to connect with others and with their past, reawakening positive thoughts and feelings that otherwise remain hidden away. We can show that this has a direct benefit on the health and wellbeing of the individuals concerned.”
Other local organisations involved in the event included Dance East, Cotman Housing Association, Involve, a not-for-profit organisation that supports young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities, and Community Action Suffolk.
[Photo: Former Ipswich Town and England footballer Terry Butcher joins a Sporting Memories session at Lowestoft Library]