A new report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) examining attitudes to ageing has found that ageist views are held across generations in the UK, and that they harm the health and wellbeing of everyone in society as we grow older. EMD UK, your national governing body for group exercise, exists to promote positive change in the lives of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and the findings of the study give us cause for concern.

Older adults in a Pilates based exercise class as part of active ageing

The report – entitled ‘That Age Old Question: How Attitudes to Ageing Affect Our Health and Wellbeing’ – reveals that ageism is prevalent in our society, with millennials (those aged between 18 and 34) holding the most negative attitudes to ageing of all age groups.

Almost a third (30%) of the public believe that “being lonely is just something that happens when people get old”, while a quarter of 18-34-year-olds believe it is “normal” for older people to be unhappy and depressed. Two in five (40%) 18-24-year-olds believe there is no way to escape dementia as you age, while nearly one in four (24%) millennials think “older people can never really be thought of as attractive.”

(Video source: youtube.com)

Real-Life Consequences to Ageist Attitudes

RSPH’s research identified a wide range of ageist attitudes, but noted that survey respondents viewed getting older most negatively of all when thinking about three things in particular:

  1. Participation in activities
  2. Memory loss
  3. Appearance

Ageist attitudes harm older people as they lead to discrimination, which can promote social exclusion, affect employment opportunities, and have a huge impact on both physical and mental health.

A big concern is that as people grow older, many start to apply negative age stereotypes to themselves. As this happens, they begin to believe that they really are too old to participate in activities, become withdrawn and inactive, and soon start to suffer physical and mental health problems as a result. The RSPH study notes that previous research has shown that those with a more negative attitude to ageing live on average 7.5 years less than those with more positive attitudes.

Image from the Royal Society for Public Health showing the stereotypes people associate with ageing
(Image source: rsph.org.uk)

In light of the findings, RSPH is calling for action to end the stigmatisation of older people. It wants to undo the damage caused by media clichés and ongoing advertising campaigns (such as those which use the term “anti-ageing” to promote beauty products, for example) that keep the culture of ageism live and kicking, and calls on stakeholders in the media, government, schools, and the voluntary sector to reframe the way our nation views ageing and cast it in a more positive light.

EMD UK is behind this vision 100%. Through a large number of partnerships and projects, we support group exercise instructors and our Member Organisations, as they work hard to welcome people of all ages into the world of group exercise, help them maintain an active lifestyle, and realise a healthier, happier and more inclusive sector for all.

Over 55s Make Up One Third of All Group Exercise Participants

The great thing about group exercise is that it isn’t just a young person’s game, and the communal atmosphere of group exercise classes make it an activity that’s not only good for physical health, but mental health, too.

Despite the negative attitudes, RSPH’s survey respondents held about older people “participating in activities”, EMD UK’s own research finds that group exercise participation is nearly as strong amongst the over 55s as it is amongst the 35-54 age group, and in fact stronger than the 22-34 age group.

In all, we found that 32.7% of group exercise participants were 55 or over, compared to 34.5% who were between the ages of 35 and 54, and 31.1% between 22 and 34 – in other words, there is roughly equal participation across all age groups.

Image showing the age split in different types of group exercise cited from the EMD UK Participant Survey 2016
(Image source: emduk.org)

What this tells us is that it really is ageism that’s the problem, and not the actual ages of activity participants themselves – at least when it comes to group exercise.

The older generation is vital to the health and prosperity of our sector, and we welcome group exercise participants of all ages and abilities with open arms.

This has been the case since EMD UK first formed in 2006, when our founding organisations – The Medau Society, FLexercise, and the Keep Fit Association (KFA) – joined forces to form an umbrella body for exercise, movement and dance.

All three organisations have always worked hard to ensure group exercise is inclusive for all, and continue to do so now under the banner of EMD UK. In fact, without the commitment, enthusiasm and participation of the older generations, the UK’s group exercise sector wouldn’t be nearly as thriving as it is today.

Let’s take a look at some of the great work our founding organisations are doing.

The Medau Society

With a strong focus on the over-60s, Medau is participant-centred and always delivered in a non-competitive atmosphere. The classes are each personally designed by a qualified Medau teacher, and tailored to the needs of participants. Medau exercises are based on natural body movements, build core strength and stamina, improve balance and coordination, and do not lead to over-strain or exhaustion.

(Video source: youtube.com)

In partnership with EMD UK, the Medau Society organises Teacher Training and In-service Training for qualified Medau teachers, as well as recreational courses and events for participants.

Medau brings movement, exercise, fun, joy and laughter to people of all ages. They’re always on the lookout for group exercise instructors who want to further their careers by becoming a Medau Member and help the Society bring more Medau classes to more people across the nation.

Find out more about becoming a Medau Member here.


FLexercise has been around since the 1920s, and has a tried and tested, all-round fitness formula that improves everyday flexibility, strength, posture, and core control.

Part exercise, part dance, but all fun, FLexercise offers a complete approach to fitness and mobility for all ages and abilities – anyone can enjoy and benefit from a FLexercise class, as many, many fantastic over-55 FLexercisers do.

(Video source: youtube.com)

With training courses endorsed and supported by EMD UK, if you’re a group exercise instructor and are looking to develop your career even further, courses are now open if you would like to train to become a FLexercise teacher. To find out more, click here.

Keep Fit Association (KFA)

The Keep Fit Association is dedicated to the provision of safe and effective exercise, movement and dance. With nine regional KFAs across the country bringing people together to keep fit and active, many people who join up develop lifelong friendships, and help and support one another, both within the class environment, and outside of it.

KFA Moves logo
(Image source: keepfit.org.uk)

The KFA gives people across the generations the opportunity to meet in a spirit of fun and take part in group exercise to music. The organisation has successfully changed the lives of many people by introducing them to fitness through exercise, movement and dance, helping them become more energetic, healthier and happier.

Endorsed by EMD UK, group exercise instructors interested in KFA teacher training opportunities can learn more by clicking here.

EMD UK – Changing Perceptions to Ageing Across the Generations

Ageist attitudes abound in society and have a major impact on the public’s health. However, as the UK’s population ages, it’s more important than ever before to promote positive perceptions across the generations, and show the public that the old and young have more in common than opposition.

Group exercise is a fantastic way to bring people of all ages together to have fun with fitness and improve the nation’s health. EMD UK, along with our founding organisations and Member Organisations, will continue to work hard to change the perceptions of and about older people, and help everyone start to look forward to later life as a period of opportunity for growth and new experiences, rather than a stage fraught with mental and physical challenges.

If you’re a group exercise instructor and are looking for ways to make your classes more inclusive for older people, get in touch with EMD UK today to find out how we can help you.