Guest blog: The science of staying active into old age

This guest blog was contributed by Professor Ilaria Bellantuono, an expert on musculoskeletal ageing, from the University of Sheffield. 

Over 10 million people in the UK currently live with pain and disability due to musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis or fractures due to osteoporosis. The NHS annual budget for these diseases is over £5 billion per annum and musculoskeletal conditions are the leading cause of disability in the UK and globally.

The majority of these diseases develop with age and the resulting pain, stiffness and loss of mobility can impact every aspect of a person’s life. Simple tasks can become difficult because they require dexterity of hands and wrists, and the ability to reach up or bend down. It’s not surprising that people with musculoskeletal conditions are four times more likely to develop depression.

With estimates suggesting that the number of over 65’s will increase from 524 million (in 2010) to 1.5 billion in 2050, it’s crucial that we ensure people are not just living longer, but living healthily for longer and without long periods of poor health.

There is an urgent need to invest in research into musculoskeletal diseases and to engage with patients and the public to disseminate the knowledge developed by doctors and researchers.

The MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Integrated research into Musculoskeletal Ageing (CIMA) is a collaboration between researchers and clinicians at the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle which aims to improve our understanding of why these diseases develop and find new, more effective ways to treat them.

This week, CIMA launched a completely free, online course that gives learners from around the world access to their world leading research and provides a platform for experts, researchers, carers, patients and anyone with an interest to come together and discuss musculoskeletal health issues.

Delivered by CIMA clinicians and research scientists and hosted by FutureLearn, the course offers an engaging educational experience through a blend of articles, discussions, short films, animations and quizzes.

Over three weeks, the course will explore how our bones, joints, ligaments and muscles function less well as we age and explain how lifestyle interventions such as exercise and diet can help us live healthier for longer. Alongside academics and experts, learners will also hear from those experiencing musculoskeletal ageing issues via Sheffield’s Patients as Educators’ programme.

If you’d like a taster, watch this animation, in which course educator Michael Trenell explores how physical activity changes over the life course and explains the detrimental impacts that our environment can have on our musculoskeletal health.

To learn more about the course, watch the trailer and sign up for free, please visit FutureLearn or search ‘stay active’ at

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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