Local Age UKs will be funded by the partnership with The FA and Sport England to run sessions that will be delivered from late Spring 2021. Walking football is a safe, fun and inclusive way of re-introducing physical activity to women and men in later life. It enables anybody – whether they are life-long football players, lapsed players or new to the sport – to give the game a go in a supportive and sociable environment. Because age doesn’t need to be a barrier for walking football players, older people can keep their mind and body active whilst enjoying the sportsmanship and a sense of belonging that comes with being part of a team.
Being active is good for physical and mental health whatever your age and it’s especially important as we get older. Sport England’s Active Lives data[i] highlights that before the pandemic, we were seeing strong growth in older adult activity levels. However, since the pandemic older people’s activity levels have declined, with the proportion of people aged 55-74 who are active falling from 63% to 56%, and the proportion of people aged 75+ who are active declining from 42% to 35%. The programme will provide older people the opportunity to get out and about and increase their levels of activity following a challenging year.
The Walking Football programme also includes a focus on reaching older people living in more deprived areas of the country and those living with long-term health conditions, as research has shown that these groups are more likely to be physically inactive[ii],[iii].
James Kendall, Director of Football Development at The FA, said: “This exciting new partnership will support the increasing popularity of walking football, allowing well over 1,000 new participants to give walking football a go when the sessions kick off in the coming months.
“We look forward to seeing players of all ability take part in what is a fun and inclusive activity, improves health and social engagement and is further evidence of the incredible role football has to play as a force for good within all communities.”
Mike Diaper, Executive Director, Health and Tackling Inactivity at Sport England, said: “Living an active life is one of the most beneficial ways that people can lead healthier and happier lives – and this is even more important when we get older. That’s why we are so pleased to partner with The FA and Age UK to bring walking football to older people in communities across England. Thanks to National Lottery players, this partnership and our investment of over £400k will help many hundreds of older people stay fit, have fun and make friends, in a safe and supportive environment.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “We’re delighted to have the support of The FA and Sport England for Age UK’s Walking Football programme. We know that keeping active can improve confidence and wellbeing, help older people to live independently for longer, and reduce isolation and loneliness, whilst also being great fun! It’s been a difficult time for our older population during the pandemic, with many older people having to shield and stay at home, as well as being unable to see friends and family. The Walking Football programme will be a great opportunity for older people to feel active and socialise again in a safe environment.”
The programme is funded in partnership with The FA and Sport England, who are investing money raised by National Lottery players into the programme.
Walking football groups at local Age UKs are due to kick off across the country later in the year. All groups and sessions will be covid-secure and delivered in accordance with Government guidelines.
For more information about the Age UK Walking Football Programme and older people keeping active, please visit https://www.ageuk.org.uk/walking-football/
[i] Sport England Active Lives Adult Survey, Mid-March to mid-May 2020
[ii] Over a third of people in lower socio-economic groups are inactive compared with around a quarter of those in higher socio-economic groups. Sport England Active Lives Adult Survey May 18/19 report https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-01/active-lives-adult-may-18-19-report_1.pdf?ehS5l7YBm3YeLHgNwXLmUSbTZPENafJY
[iii] People living with a long-term health condition are twice as likely to be inactive (Sport England Active Lives Adult Survey November 17/18 Report) despite many (69%) saying they would like to be more active (DJS Research for We Are Undefeatable in 2019 survey of 1,303 people aged 18+ in England living with long-term health conditions)