Walking fit-ball helps older men and students connect while getting fit
Loneliness is unfortunately all too common, especially among older men. Statistically, those most likely to get involved in social clubs to form connections in later life are women, leaving many men struggling with isolation. However, Queen Margaret University has now started a new outreach group to get older men meeting one another, improving their physical health and forming friendships.
Walking Fit-Ball is an intergenerational social project for male identifying students and members of the local community. The project mixes men over 60 from the local community with QMU students to play a less physically demanding version of the beautiful game. The games are played at a fast walking pace so those involved can still benefit from exercise while remaining accessible to older people.
Students are mixed into the teams to help keep up the pace of the game, as well as to reinforce the social element of the event. By mingling with members of the East Lothian community, QMU is helping to cement the University’s connection and relationships within the area and promote stakeholder involvement in the institution.
Moreover, by keeping the exercise slightly lighter than conventional football, QMU can promote a variety of health benefits to older locals in a way that encourages them to continue playing. Where normal football might be too much for the over 60s, this initiative still supports them to participate.
While an element of friendly competition remains in the Walking Fit–ball programme, the real focus is on getting older members of the local community meeting each other, as well as QMU students, and forming friendships.
We spoke to Dr Christos Theodorakopoulos, who organises QMU’s Walking Fit–Ball programme to tell us more about the benefits it offers. Christos explained: “Walking Football has been gaining popularity in Scotland recently. Not only does it improve cardiovascular health, physical function and balance, but as a group-based physical activity, it can be more effective and fun than home-based activities.
“It can improve mood, build social networks and reduce loneliness. Having a mix of young and older players can increase the intensity and enjoyment of the game, and it can provide additional motivation for older players to engage in physical activity.
"Playing Walking Football with young people can provide opportunities for older adults to connect with a younger generation, reducing social isolation and promoting positive intergenerational relationships.”
Christos confirmed: “It can benefit young people as well. These intergenerational projects help remove negative stereotypes of older generations and make students more aware of the importance of maintaining autonomy with advancing age. Young people who have taken part in similar projects feel that they can make a positive difference in their community.
"This project can increase the feeling of belonging, create meaningful relationships, help promote public health, and potentially improve mental health outcomes. That is true for the young players as much as it is for the older players."
We also spoke to one attendee of Walking Fit-Ball, Kevin Johnson. This 66-year-old says that playing has been a great way to meet men he can be friends with, something he has struggled with at other social clubs. He said: “My next-door neighbour encouraged me to come along to this and I’m really glad I did. I’m in about three other groups and they’re attended mostly by women, so it’s nice to have other guys to speak to. It helps me because most of my male friends are away or married and it’s not possible to meet them when they have grandkids and families. It’s good to have other men that I can spend time with regularly.”