Age UK says its new Walking Football programme - launched this week in partnership with the Football Association and Sport England - can play a key role in helping older people recover from the pandemic.
The programme will provide older adults with the opportunity to get out and increase their levels of activity following a challenging year.
Organisers say it will also reach 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.
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, while 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.”
Sport England’s Active Lives data highlights that before the pandemic, there was strong growth in older adult activity levels. However their activity levels have declined during the crisis, with the proportion of people aged 55 to 74 who are active falling from 63% to 56%, and the proportion of people aged 75-plus who are active declining from 42% to 35%.
Walking Football is a safe, fun and inclusive way of re-introducing physical activity to women and men in later life. It allows anybody to get involved without age being a barrier to participation. It's an opportunity for older people to keep their mind and body active whilst enjoying the camaraderie and sense of belonging that comes with being part of a team.
The programme has been made possible with an investment of £400,000 from the National Lottery, Walking Football groups at local Age UK branches 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.
James Kendall, the FA’s Director of Football Development, said: “This exciting new partnership will support the increasing popularity of Walking Football, allowing well over 1000 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.”