September 20, 2008

Are We on Road to Healthy Old Age?


ONE of the most positive statements that I have read is the ambition to make Newcastle "the best place in the UK to grow old".

Maybe it was my age, but I needed to put my glasses on and read it twice to understand what it really meant. Assuming that those of us fortunate enough to live into old age want to do so in continuing good health, we may just find ourselves living in an area with the best research, hospitals and activity programmes in the country.

Newcastle Hospitals Trust and Newcastle University seem to be developing a bit of a world reputation on the art of ageing gracefully.

Their proposed Campus for Ageing and Vitality will become a world- class centre for research, teaching, businesses and support services all dedicated to making sure we grow old healthily and with a good quality of life.

We could be the first in the UK to get the benefits of research and technology. The cynical might say that they are happy for the scientists to try things out on their friends in the North, but a more positive view would say that this is one area where the North East can deliver itself some preferential treatment.

This seems to be a prescription for commercial success for the region as well. It will be all the better if it ensures that local people and the local community can share in the benefits of healthier and longer lives.

Tesco, a hero in the USA for its fresh and easy approach to supermarkets, seems to have had an unnecessarily bad press for its ambitious approach to property development here in the UK. However, if you started to ask what the ingredients might be for healthy living in the West End of Newcastle, a starting point would be higher local employment followed by healthier lifestyle and eating.

The introduction of another Tesco supermarket on the General Hospital site has had its critics, but it is a company committed to local employment and is better than most in promoting the healthier options, five-a-day and organic choices.

While I am a great fan of the local independent grocer, supermarkets have introduced much more international choice and quality for everyday eating.

Articles in both The Journal and national newspapers suggest that the Westgate Road development is not going to be any old supermarket, but a store designed with older people in mind.

Could it be the first supermarket with trolleys designed as gyms? They could measure your heart rate and give you a workout as you trek round the fruit and veg counter. Voluntary treadmills at the checkouts could be another innovation.

Work at Durham University has proved the link between arts and health, and Brendan Foster's initiative, Take to the Streets, has shown that we also need to promote exercise and regular activity if we are to grow into a healthier society.

Perhaps the Campus for Ageing and Vitality should also have a strong arts and sports programme too.

People understandably associate hospitals with illness, accidents and generally unhappy experiences. In reality they are places that care for people, fix problems and bring back healthier lives. How refreshing it would be to have a hospital site in Newcastle that goes even further and a supermarket that breaks new ground internationally.

Andrew Dixon is chief executive of NewcastleGateshead Initiative

"We could be the first in the UK to get the benefits of research and technology

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