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You’re still young enough to ...keep your mind active and enjoy later years, experts say

28 February 2020

Experts are highlighting that keeping our minds active, as well as our bodies, can help improve health in later years – and that it’s never too late to try something new.

Cllr Bill Borrett, Norfolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Public Health and Prevention said;"People tell us that as they get older they want to enjoy living independently for as long as possible and not to have to rely on health and social care services.

“We want to support people to achieve this by helping them lead a healthy lifestyle."

"So I'm delighted that experts are backing our - “Still young enough to…” campaign which is all about encouraging Norfolk residents to be proud of their later years, show how by staying healthy, active and involved they can enjoy independent and fulfilling lives for longer and point people to the wealth of activities available in Norfolk to support healthy ageing."

Michael Hornberger, Professor of Applied Dementia Research at UEA who is supporting the campaign said: “We all know that keeping the body active can help us enjoy our later years for longer but there is now strong evidence that challenging yourself cognitively is important for brain health, in particular during ageing.

“The most important aspect of staying cognitively active is to learn something new like a language or skill. Maintaining hobbies which keep existing skills sharp, or even putting them to use through volunteering can really keep the mind and brain working delivering good potential health benefits into our older years.”

Ceri Sumner, Community, Information and Learning Director at Norfolk County Council added: “The Five Ways to Wellbeing public health model, which is the mental health equivalent of the five-a--day diet advice, says that people who challenge themselves with learning can improve their confidence, mental health and wellbeing.

“The studies even show that the good mood people experience as a result of this kind of improved wellbeing can push back the likelihood of stroke by six years and of cardiovascular disease by ten years.

“Norfolk offers an incredible choice for continuing learning, whatever your interest. From participating in formal language, music, arts and creative skills courses, to rediscovering old interests and even learning how to cook your favourite food – all of these can help to improve health outcomes, particularly for older people.”

Evidence is also emerging that community involvement, particularly through volunteering can help people’s health and wellbeing. Alan Hopley, Chief Executive of Voluntary Norfolk said:

“Volunteering is a fantastic way of increasing self esteem and giving people a sense of purpose and there’s some evidence for specific health benefits for those who receive positive feedback from their voluntary work, such as a lower likelihood of suffering depression – and even longer life.

“Above all, volunteering enables people to continue to put the skills and knowledge they’ve achieved throughout life to good use, as well as continuing developing them – not to mention the benefits
of maintaining friendships and minimising the likelihood of loneliness and isolation which can have significant effects on people’s health.

“There are a wealth of opportunities for volunteering in Norfolk, and whatever your age, you can be sure that you’re still young enough to have a go at it.”

Please visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/stillyoungenough to find more information about adult learning, volunteering and other activities in Norfolk to help keep your mind and body active.

Case studies

Linda Webb – Adult learner at Wensum Lodge, Norwich - Silversmithing

Linda started to learn silversmithing with Norfolk County Council’s Adult Learning service 16 years ago. Despite poor eyesight and other health issues, she receives support from the tutor and, as well as the skillset, enjoys the social aspect of the group learning.

“I am so inspired with the craft, I’ve now got a workshop at home and thinking about ideas for new designs is really important to me.

“I am really proud that I’ve learned a skill which means I can make something precious and it makes me happy as I can make presents for the family like christening gifts. In fact, my granddaughter is getting married this August and I’m making both wedding rings!”

Kim Russell- Bounce and Rhyme Volunteer at North Walsham and Stalham Libararies

Kim is a retired teacher and has been volunteering as a Bounce and Rhyme session leader at North Walsham and Stalham Libraries since 2015. “I absolutely love my role and it gives me a such a great sense of achievement to see the little ones develop - not to mention the interaction I have with their parents and carers. Doing this makes me feel that I’m part of the community and it’s wonderful seeing so many familiar faces on the high street.”

Richard Rackstraw – Farm estate volunteer at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

Richard was an electrician and had little or no experience of countryside activities when he retired. But for the last 15 years he’s been volunteering on the farm at Gressenhall, where he’s learnt and been trained to be able to now carry out a huge variety of tasks. Training and experience now means he can turn his hand to helping with the running the static steam engines and steam generation boiler to feeding and cleaning the pigs, sheep and all the fowl, although his favourite is to help look after and work the amazing Suffolk Punch horses.

“Every day is different in this role - and it’s so rewarding. My training has covered such a variety of tasks – and even includes ploughing, as part of my responsibility for working the horses. You have to really concentrate and it’s hard physical work, but what a sense of achievement you get when you look back and see a nice straight furrow!

“Volunteering gives me real sense of inclusion and usefulness. It’s allowed me to remain in the workplace , exercise my wider life skills and put my mental dexterity to the test. Not to mention a social platform.

“I know some people might feel a bit nervous to try volunteering, but there’s no need. You’ll be welcomed with open arms and made to feel part of an organisation. Give it a go – there’s nothing to lose!”

Adriaan Kraaijestein - Landscape and farming volunteer at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

“I got into volunteering at Gressenhall by visiting an “Apple Day” a while ago. It was just as the landscape conservation team was being set up and it’s developed since then.

“I’d worked in the NHS – and always indoors – but I didn’t do much for the first two years after retirement, and that was tough as I really missed the interaction with people that I’d experienced all my working life.

“Volunteering has kept me in touch with the public, as well as giving me the chance to learn great new skills like hedge laying, horse grooming, charcoal making. It’s opened up a whole new world for me – and a useful one too.

“I’d really encourage people to try volunteering – and particularly to try something new. You will be surprised how helpful and willing others are to teach you your new skills.”

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