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Unpaid carers held back from being physically active

07 May 2021
  • New research shows unpaid carers over 55 find it harder to be active - despite wanting to be fitter
  • Lower activity levels see carers in poorer mental and physical health

Unpaid carers over the age of 55 face significant challenges being physically active despite wanting to be fitter, new research by charity Carers UK shows.

The barriers to being physically active are leaving carers in poorer health than the general population.

Funded by Sport England the study, which focused on the experiences of people over 55 with unpaid caring responsibilities, found that they are less active than other adults over 55. Nearly half (46%) of carers are inactive, compared with 33% of adults in this age bracket.

Three quarters (76%) of carers said they are not able to do as much physical exercise as they’d like. The main barriers are:

  • not having the time to take part in physical activity (88%)
  • not being motivated (71%)
  • not being able to afford the costs (67%)
  • and not having anyone to go with (59%).

Disabled carers, those juggling a job with caring, and carers who are struggling financially were all less likely to do as much physical exercise as they would like to do.

Insufficient or poor quality replacement care for the person they’re looking after meant some felt they couldn’t take a break from their caring role.

Despite the challenges there is strong appetite amongst carers to be more active, with 87% agreeing with the statement ‘I would like to be fitter than I am’.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“Caring for someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill can be incredibly demanding, making it difficult for carers to prioritise their own health and wellbeing on a day-to-day basis.

“Given how much unpaid carers contribute to our health and social care systems – saving the UK state £132 billion every year - it is vital that they are given the opportunity to take breaks from caring and to look after their own health. This is really important for both their quality of life and ability to care in the longer run.”

The research found that where carers were able to be active they were also less lonely, an issue that impacts carers far more than the general population. Previous research[1] shows unpaid carers are seven times lonelier than general public. 

Other benefits included increased life satisfaction and decreased anxiety.

Given the wide-ranging and complex barriers carers face being physically active, Carers UK is calling on national and local government and the NHS to recognise caring as a determinant of health status, and to encourage more action to support carers to be physically active.

It is also calling on physical activity providers to be more aware of carers’ needs, including offering flexibility and concessionary pricing for carers.

The charity believes statutory Carers’ Assessments should assess a carer’s ability to take part in physical activity, as part of the assessment of a carer’s wellbeing.

Today Carers UK and Sport England announce that they will continue working together for another three years to explore in greater depth how carers over 55 can be better supported to be physically active. They will develop a dedicated Carers Active programme to encourage carers to become active and work to ensure physical activity is considered part of mainstream carers’ support.

Helen Walker added:

“The first phase of our research has underlined just how difficult it is for many carers to maintain their physical health and wellbeing in later life. We are delighted to be able to continue our work with Sport England so we can ensure carers in England are given much better opportunities to be active and healthy.”

Mike Diaper, Executive Director Children, Young People and Tackling Inactivity at Sport England:

“We’re really pleased to be continuing to the next stage of the project to support carers get more active, especially as restrictions begin to ease and the choice and opportunity to be active is increasing. Our health and wellbeing is a priority, especially as we continue to live with Covid-19, so it is important that everyone has the ability to be active and able to continue providing such valuable care.

“These research findings also help to demonstrate that sport and physical activity can often play a real role in our happiness levels, whilst also helping to tackle loneliness, which the past year will have heightened for so many. Helping to reduce the barriers that carers in particular face and helping them find time to enjoy more regular activity through a dedicated programme is a real, positive step.”

 Read the report, Carers and Physical Activity.

[1] Carers Week, Getting Carers Connected, 2019

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