Research

Research Digest: Older people’s physical health

Dowlen, R. 2022. Research Digest: Older people’s physical health. Version 1, March 2022. Leeds: Centre for Cultural Value.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in the value of cultural programmes in supporting older people’s physical health as they age. This interest has been noted within the cultural sector, as well as the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors (e.g. AgeUK, Aesop). We are all growing older, and so it is important to consider how cultural activity may support physical health and contribute to older people leading meaningful and fulfilling lives as they age.

This research digest presents an overview of findings from a rapid review of the literature relating to the value of culture for older people’s physical health.

Identified through 23 studies that examine the role of cultural programmes in supporting older people’s physical health (inc. physical fitness, physical function, fall incidences). Across these studies dance programmes were the most commonly reported (83 per cent), with the older people represented in the literature being largely women and aged 65-75. The large majority of studies used quantitative approaches (96 per cent), implementing a ‘battery’ of physical assessments to gain an overall picture of the impacts dance had on different elements of physical function.

A number of studies showed positive impacts of programmes on older people’s overall physical function, balance and posture. However, these findings were not consistent across studies and a number of studies showed no difference over time or in comparison to a control group. This means that at present, there is mixed evidence on the value of cultural activity in supporting the physical health of older people.

Overall, while there was some positive indication for the role that dance may play in supporting the physical health of older people, caution must be taken when interpreting the evident in this area given the range of significant and non-significant findings represented in the literature. Further research is needed to unpick the specific role of dance and other cultural activities represented in this review to fully understand the value of such cultural activity in promoting the physical health of older people.

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