University of Birmingham expert plays key role in new report on healthy ageing

Professor Janet Lord

A University of Birmingham expert has played a pivotal part in the production of a new report aimed at highlighting physiology’s role in meeting the UK Government’s healthy ageing mission.

The report, ‘Growing Older, Better’, has been produced by The Physiological Society, Europe's largest network of physiologists. University of Birmingham Professor Janet Lord was one of nine experts invited by The Physiological Society to set the aims and objectives of the report, attending or chairing workshops, and reviewing the progress of the report which was launched in Parliament at an event hosted by Stephen Metcalfe MP.

Professor Lord is Director of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, which brings together fundamental scientists and clinicians to translate understanding of the process of inflammation in to new treatments for chronic age-related inflammatory disease and the consequences of major trauma.

Her own research focusses on the dysregulation of immunity in old age and she aims to develop new treatments to improve immunity in older adults.  Professor Lord's recent research found that older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives had not lost muscle mass or strength, or increased their body fat or cholesterol levels with age, as had happened to those who had not regularly exercised. More surprisingly, the study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as those who had exercised regularly had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.

The UK Government launched its Industrial Strategy ‘building a Britain fit for the future’ in November 2017 and central to this is its target of ensuring people can enjoy at least five extra healthy independent years of life by 2035.

The Physiological Society approached experts, including Professor Lord, to ask their views on the likelihood of this target being met under current circumstances and what must change in order to see the exponential growth required in average healthy life expectancy within the next decade.

‘Growing Older, Better’ represents an overview of the current environment for physiology and highlights the opportunities that The Physiological Society can harness over the coming years to ensure that the Government is in a position to meet its healthy ageing target.

Its four main conclusions are:

  1. Physiological research is core to providing  answers to many of the questions that will need solving in order to meet the Government’s Healthy Ageing Grand Challenge by 2035.
  2.  There needs to be a more supportive funding landscape to prevent physiology “falling through the cracks”.
  3.  Physiology, as the interdisciplinary science, is in an ideal position to act as the interface, supporting interdisciplinary working between sub-disciplines that focus on researching treatments for patients who are often living with co-morbidities and embedding a better understanding of physiology among clinicians, nurses and allied healthcare workers.
  4.  Health problems are understood by the public as being independent of one another and, therefore, the causal relationship between declining physiological function, declining healthspan and multimorbidity must be better communicated. We must also reflect that the “hardest to reach” in the field of healthy ageing are varied so physiologically informed guidance must be tailored and achievable for all.

University of Birmingham Professor Janet Lord, who is also Director of the MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research, said: “We now know that a girl born in the UK today has a one in three chance of living to 100, and the chance of living to 100 will double in the next 50 years.

“However, while life expectancy is increasing, people are living more years in poor health - placing huge pressure on the NHS and other sectors.

“It is essential that we make more discoveries around ageing, not only to understand how to age better, but also how to improve treatments for those who are not ageing well.”

The Physiological Society’s report ‘Growing Older, Better’, concludes: “Without appropriately targeted funding for basic science such as physiology, the high-quality and valuable science that is driving a better understanding of the heterogeneity of ageing is not sufficiently shared with other disciplines and the public to help them make positive change.

“Growing Older, Better represents an overview of the current environment for physiology and highlights the opportunities that The Society can harness over the coming years to ensure that the Government is in a position to meet its healthy ageing target.

“More work must now be done to ensure achievable and concrete measures are in place. This report therefore is not the end of the process, rather it maps out some of the key challenges that will need to be addressed in order to ensure that the UK as a whole is growing older, better.”

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