Playing team sports is a great way to form bonds and combat loneliness. Recent research at University of Copenhagen shows that this is true even for seniors who are barely mobile. The researchers faced one little hitch though. Persuading impaired oldsters to join the fun might be… Challenging. Now, a project run by the two Copenhagen Science City-partners University of Copenhagen and City of Copenhagen has shown, that the findings of the researchers can be translated into everyday health. By Jes Andersen.
Seniors were afraid to join team sports
Most senior citizens have become too weak to run, by the time they join the City of Copenhagen activity centres. Some can’t even stand. This was the primary challenge, when Signe Rosengreen Holmenlund launched a programme to implement research results at seven City of Copenhagen senior activity centres. She needed to train staff on how to persuade seniors, that joining the team would not be dangerous.
Many seniors are afraid to join team sports. Afraid to fall. Afraid to get hurt. We train the staff to handle these fears and have developed several games that are non-threatening and suitable for reduced physical abilities. For example, by using balloons instead of balls and foam rubber mallets instead of hockey sticks”: Signe Rosengreen Holmenlund, Development and implementation consultant, Centre for Team Sports and Health, Department for Nutrition, Exercise and Sport, University of Copenhagen.
Misgivings quickly eased
The staff that Holmenlund trained included physical therapists and social- and health care helpers. These were all thrilled for the fresh inspiration, but some were a bit hesitant on behalf of the seniors. Their worries were important to address, but quickly eased.
One of the times these games were put into practice, one lady was sure, that she could only participate sitting in a chair. Ten minutes later, she was on her feet. Walking around. Playing the game”: Signe Rosengreen Holmenlund, Development and implementation consultant, Centre for Team Sports and Health, Department for Nutrition, Exercise and Sport, University of Copenhagen.
Implementing university research takes time, but is worth it
Implementing fresh university research in city institutions does take staff away from their daily tasks, but it comes with high rewards according to the city’s project lead Lise Schou Andreasen. She feels that Copenhagen has an obligation to test scientific results in a municipal context.
Copenhagen is the biggest municipality in Denmark. We have the resources and capacity to test and implement new research in our projects and interventions. We operate 16 municipal activity centres which aim to facilitate social communities for senior citizens through physical activity. These have been a perfect test environment for this type of activity and research.” Lise Schou Andreasen, Consultant, Centre for seniors and innovation, City of Copenhagen.
Pilot project created value
Teaching team sports to seniors in Copenhagen was a pilot project. Due to Covid lockdowns it was not fully rolled out and this provided unexpected arguments for continuing the programme. Halfway through the project, the City hosted a joint sports day for seniors from three of the 16 activity centres. Feedback from the event provided evidence that the project was on the right track.
The joint team sports day was one of the better days of my career. Afterwards, members from other activity centres started asking for team sport activities at their centres as well. This made it obvious that the project has made an impact and created new value”: Lise Schou Andreasen, Consultant, Centre for seniors and innovation, City of Copenhagen.
Happy when seniors have fun
Team sports have proven better than solo sports at improving mental and social fitness. Mostly because the element of competition encourages players to work harder. When it comes to combatting loneliness, team sports also have an edge over other exercise. Everyone has a function on the team, so it makes a marked difference when someone does not show up.
What really makes me happy, is when the seniors are having fun. Especially when they tell me, that the team element is what makes them want to come for sports days”: Signe Rosengreen Holmenlund, Development and implementation consultant, Centre for Team Sports and Health, Department for Nutrition, Exercise and Sport, University of Copenhagen.
Makes sense to collaborate in innovation district
Copenhagen Science City is an innovation district where the three research organisations University Hospital Rigshospitalet, University College Copenhagen and University of Copenhagen collaborate with City of Copenhagen to provide excellent conditions for innovation. At UCPH, Nikolai Baastrup Nordsborg is Head of Department at NEXS. According to him it makes a special kind of sense to collaborate with City of Copenhagen.
Most of our research aims to understand how we can improve lives. Through sports, exercise and nutrition. Copenhagen is a city with a highly varied citizenship, so it can provide a perfect living lab for our findings. I would urge all researchers at my department to seek out collaborative projects with the City. Not least when it comes to implementing findings.”: Nikolai Baastrup Nordsborg, Head of Department, University of Copenhagen Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.