Keeping active can slow your ageing - Dare To Be Purple Blog

How long are your telomeres?

New research from the US and reported in the American press (from which most of this article has been shamefacedly plagiarised) suggests that almost any amount and type of physical activity may slow ageing deep within our cells and starting exercise from the age of 40 has the most profound effect.

Dating a cell’s age is tricky, because its biological and chronological ages rarely match. A cell could be relatively young in terms of how long it has existed but function slowly or erratically, as if elderly so many scientists have begun determining a cell’s biological age — meaning how well it functions and not how old it literally is — by measuring the length of its telomeres.

telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromatid, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes or…… for those who don’t know that much genetics and DNA engineering; they’re like tiny caps found on the end of DNA strands, akin to the end bit of your shoelace. They’re believed to protect the DNA from damage during cell division and replication.

As a cell ages, its telomeres naturally shorten and fray – just like shoelaces. But unlike shoelaces, the process can be accelerated by obesity, smoking, insomnia, diabetes and other aspects of health and lifestyle. In those cases, the affected cells age prematurely.

However, the scientists’ study suggests that exercise may slow the fraying of telomeres. Past studies have found, for instance, that athletes typically have longer telomeres than sedentary people of the same age, as do older women who frequently walk or engage in other fairly moderate exercise, (read previous blog about the benefits of walking) but this study looked far wider.

In this study they found that people who did a variety of exercise were nearly 60% likely to have longer telomeres than someone who participated in a single activity who were 3% likely to have long telomeres than someone who did no exercise at all.

Interestingly, these associations were strongest among people between the ages of 40 and 65, suggesting that middle age may be a key time to begin or maintain an exercise program if you wish to keep telomeres from shrinking.

However, the study was purely associational, so cannot show whether exercise actually causes changes in telomere length, only that people who exercise have longer telomeres.

Perhaps most important, the results from this study don’t tell us whether longer telomeres translate into better health. But other studies have shown that telomeres are predictive of mortality, with shorter telomeres equating to shorter lives.

So the message seems clear; a variety of exercise is good for your cells, a good time to start exercising is in those middle to late years and genetic engineering is as simple as tying your shoelaces!

So go on, elongate those telomeres, your health depends on it!

Keep active by keep walking - Dare To Be Purple Blog

Hey! Couch potato! Let us show you the door!

Most of us have a tendency to be lazy at this time of year. It’s dull, wet and windy outside and we’re nice and warm, building our ‘winter coat’ with chocolate digestives and sweet tea. Eventually there comes a time (January) when many of us will join a gym, drawn in by special ‘never to be repeated’ offers and motivated by the rather obvious point that our winter coat is now rather too snug and our level of inactivity is considered by some as late hibernation.

The gym generally goes well until we reach February and then we notice that the other people we joined with (and hid amongst), are no longer to be seen. Now it’s just you and the narcissist, mirror watching, grunting weight lifter and some non-stop treadmill runners. This is often the tipping point back to a sedentary life and hibernation.

You assuage any guilt by the strong and misguided self-belief that you’re not really overweight, really quite active and you are also too old for this ‘gym’ malarkey.

However, here’s the hard truth – seventy-eight per cent of us claim to be active for our age according to a series of studies into family life in Britain by Nestlé Family Monitor but the survey showed that 74 per cent of people aged over 50 never played sport and 63 per cent never exercised. Many of us do nothing more strenuous than walking to the shops once or twice a week.

As a result, more than half of us aged over 50 are overweight, including 16 per cent who are obese running the risk of losing our mobility and becoming a burden on relatives and the state.

Well here’s some good news. A recent study reported that women of all ages and men over 50 stayed slimmer when they took a brisk daily jaunt rather than signing up with a health club.

A study from the London School of Economics drew the rather obvious conclusion that going to the gym takes much more time than just walking out your front door and that walking, when started is a lasting habit.

Well stone the crows, there you have it – walking is good for you, in fact it’s good for all of us! Dr Stan Grant, a lecturer in physiology and sport science at Glasgow University said that his own research shows that it is not too late for an improvement in health, even if a person is 89 years of age.

However, research from the Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University shows that making overweight or obese people feel bad about their bodies actually increases their risk of becoming or staying obese. So what can we do to help nudge the couch potatoes amongst us into action?

Well here’s what we think could help – technology and specifically activity trackers, those wearable devices that count steps or measure distance travelled and perhaps advise on calories burned.

But before you go out of your front door to buy a tracker and start walking to John ‘O’ Groats or Lands’ End here’s some advice:

  1. If you are under medical supervision consider talking to your doctor before you commence daily exercise. It’s unlikely they’ll stop you, in fact we’re sure they be very supportive but best to check.
  2. Don’t push it. Gradually build up your distance. Don’t set yourself up for failure with over ambitious plans such as a 5-mile route march on day 1.
  3. Make your walking activity a family or team affair. The best way to lose weight and to be more active is to have some support. Partner up with someone else to encourage each other to eat healthy and be more physically fit. You’re twice as likely to keep a daily routine up if you team up with someone else – you could share the cost of the tracker; you’ll only need one if you walk together.
  4. Pick a tracker to suit you. Consider options; find out what other people are using and if you know of a ‘Purple’ tracker (great design and good functionality) please share it with us.
  5. Choose something that you can use. It doesn’t have to be the latest craze, the one with the most features – you don’t need a £500 Apple Watch to do the basics; we’re only really looking to count steps and/or calories!
  6. Don’t distort these health tools into instruments of punishment. Use the tracker as a way to keep healthy, don’t punish yourself for what you fail to achieve.

Given that walking is cheap, engages you with your environment, offers you the chance to meet people, helps reduce stress, de-risks many life threatening conditions, keeps you mobile, reduces your future dependency on relatives and the state, what is stopping you? Jeremy Kyle, Moving Holmes, Call of Duty?!

Go find your front door, open it, step through it and start changing things for the better!

Credit card transaction - Dare To Be Purple Blog

I’m contactless – but in a good way!

I read today that the over-50s are ‘embracing contactless cards’. Based on research by Saga involving 6000 people over the age of 50 the article said that one in every 5 of us over 50 have a contactless card and use it and as often as three times a week! It also mentions that more than 4 out of 10 people aged between 80 and 89 have used their contactless card once.

Hang on a minute though: there are around 58 million contactless cards in the UK so they are as common as the chips they use and the ones we eat (more about chips in our next blog) and given the limit for a single payment using a contactless card increased from £20 to £30 in September we have more opportunities to use them; so why so little engagement by the over 50’s? Perhaps the bridge too far was actually raising the cash limit. Seven out of 10 people questioned said they worry about the security of contactless credit or debit cards!

So what can these statistics tell us? Well if we turn all of them on their head and look at them from a sideways point of view, (difficult, but everything is possible with statistics) it’s more a negative than positive picture. Far from embracing this new technology we are shunning it, and the older we get the more suspicious or perhaps more sceptical we become – but then again the definition of a sceptic is a realist with life experience!

So where’s the relevance for enabling aids and later life – I’m presuming that’s the reason you’re reading this blog?

Like contactless cards at the moment, enabling aids are something few of choose to use, preferring to struggle on and we worry too much when we do have them.

So what are the solutions to what now might be a common set of problems?

The first thing for both is the need to change perceptions. One way is the provision of opportunities to use whatever it is we don’t understand and preferably in familiar environments.

In the same way that the range of places where contactless payments are accepted, Aldi, Greggs, McDonald’s, M6 Toll, London Buses, London Tubes and the Post Office, we have to increase the range of opportunities for people to use enabling aids.

For example, a friend or family member taking the time to regularly go walking with someone who now needs to use a cane or other walking aid can build up an acceptance that these things do offer advantages to their lives and may also help re-build that ‘Dare To Be Purple’ confidence and attitude!

Secondly we need to promote the security and feeling of safety in the use of both; contactless cards and enabling aids. This can be achieved through the provision of information and services. The UK Cards Association backs up contactless cards. They describe instances of fraud on contactless cards as ”extremely rare”, with losses of less than a penny for every £100 spent on contactless – far lower than card fraud generally. Also if your card is fraudulently used you will be reimbursed, as long as you have taken reasonable steps to keep your card safe. Feel a bit safer, a bit more secure?

We need our own association to do the same with regard to enabling aids. To provide a similar supportive framework and the necessary information for people to use their enabling aid.

However, the different services and people involved in enabling aids; health and social services, voluntary organisations, consumer groups, family, equipment retailers etc. have no overarching body and all have well-intentioned but slightly different objectives. This often means that although the information and support can be comprehensive it can also be fragmented, not readily accessible in one place and sometimes in the absence of other opinion, confusing.

This issue is not the exclusive territory of those with complex needs. Those of us with more simple, less complex requirements also want to feel secure, particularly from exclusion or derision. As we previously wrote no one wants to be pointed out as disabled or less-able. We argued that we need to create an environment where good design leads the development of inclusive products and services. We make the same case here, but broaden the call to action. We invite everyone involved in commissioning, supporting and promoting enabling living to consider the person who they are helping and ask of themselves the questions: Would I use this? Is there enough assessable information available? If the answer is no to either then we don’t have a solution, we have a problem that the intended user doesn’t need.

So what’s needed to move things along? Well let’s share advice but consider this advice given by a spokesperson for Saga when talking about contactless cards –   “… people should use their contactless card wisely and only buy things they really need with it as it can be easy to get a bit too tap-happy with your bank or credit card” – well-intentioned but perhaps slightly patronising?

We need advice but more peer to peer discussion is necessary. We need to promote amongst ourselves a wider conversation on the pros and cons of enabling aids not only by those who use them but to include the voices of those who support others to use them.

New things are sometime better, not always, but quite often and we’ll never find out unless we get a more Purple attitude. We need to investigate the value of the products, the services and the opportunities being provided or presented and more importantly challenge ourselves to avoid a ‘beige’ existence and to live a ‘purple’ life! Get tapping away, one way or another you have nothing to lose!

Woman in her fifties using her laptop with a coffee - Dare To Be Purple

Don’t talk to me about sophistication, I’ve turned 50!

Everyone in the UK enjoys the benefits of a modern society. From the infrastructures built to move us between our homes, places of work and to and from our leisure pursuits, the technology we use to communicate further than we can shout and the appliances that help us eat, wash and generally live our lives. The list of modern aids we employ is endless. But through the labels ‘assistive technology’, ‘assisted living’ or ‘enabling aids’, these products or services are marked out as special, something for those that need help to live; the incomplete, the deficient, the elderly!

Why would any of us want something that inferred we were less of a person than our peers, no longer part of mainstream society?

Throughout life we all face changes in our circumstances, from leaving home, getting our own place, becoming married, starting a family, navigating a career and finally perhaps if we are lucky enough, retirement. At every one of these stages we use products, devices, services and structures to help us. None, absolutely none, are viewed as negative, until we call them assisted living this or enabling aid that!

Products and services foisted upon people as assisted living are not the latest smartphone or the newest tablet but narrow designs, aimed primarily at a homogenous population of ‘elderly’ which appear to have the sole aims of marking out users as less able, weaker, not independent or at worst dependent on others!

Then amazingly having designed something to exclude people manufacturers pick up the baton from the designer and market this ‘beige’ thinking to everyone over 50; the 30% of the UK population (and growing) that have been exposed to consumerism the longest: the people that hold 80% of the nation’s wealth and contribute over £300 billion of spending power each year and all set to grow given this same population have over £1 trillion of un-mortgaged equity and copper bottomed pensions they can now access to invest into personal income generating portfolios of rental property!

Do they think we are no longer sophisticated consumers with a taste (and an expensive one if we so choose) for the aesthetically pleasing and the well-formed, eye catching design?

Designers and manufacturers need to understand that the meaning and desirability of a product is important to everyone, especially the baby boomers those of us out there (born between 1946 – 1964), who invented consumerism. Not only did we invent it, we developed it into the animal it is today! Yes, a product needs to be functional and at a reasonable cost but the fundamental point is that it has to be inclusive – designed from a point of view that this is something everyone might use who has a need for it, something desirable, not just for a perceived population of elderly and incapable pensioners! This will however be a challenge as a recent report suggested that designers and manufacturers don’t even think a market exists below the age of 70!

If the design process is to be inclusive, a person with a shared need will be at the centre, resulting in the design, development and delivery of products and services that everyone with this need will want, regardless of age. But far from creating a desirable life enhancing image and something people may want to purchase and give house room, what we would call a Purple product, designers and manufacturers just jazz up walking sticks with flowery designs and feature young people holding ‘beige’ designs in their marketing brochures – why do we accept these token gestures, this patronising approach?

We all have a part to play if we want to change this. If designers don’t radically rethink who they are designing for and manufacturers don’t change their view of customers, from the frail and elderly and the volume hospital buyer then we’re only going to see a small market place of niche designers and manufacturers who get it. Those who value ‘Purple’ design and their customers but have to sell at the high end of the market due to a lack of consumer awareness and therefore demand. Whilst the majority create neglected beige products all with the pervasive whiff of discrimination and the stigma of hospitals and disability.

This won’t be good for anyone!

If we don’t all have access to Purple products more people will be injured through falls or other accidents because they will refuse to use their beige aids. This consequently means NHS resources expended at GP surgeries and hospitals, recuperation and recovery services being employed and the bitter twist; more beige products being dispensed to the recesses of our homes!

We all need to shape up and start to help each other learn more about what is out there. A lack of awareness coupled with a lack of influence means we are letting the uninformed lead the most sophisticated and commercially aware consumers ever in existence to social exclusion from a society that needs us, our spending power and our pathfinder approach, as night follows day they will follow us!

Purple is the colour of protest and celebration so join our Purple Community and whether you agree or disagree it doesn’t matter – just join the debate. Together we can bring to light and celebrate great Purple designers and awesome Purple manufacturers and together change the thinking of not only providers but perhaps ourselves; reclaiming our sophistication and daring once again to be Purple!