Social distancing has increased feelings of loneliness and is affecting the wellbeing of the older generation, according to a new study.

The research, by the University of Stirling, found loneliness in over-60s had a negative impact on health and wellbeing.

The study also discovered many were facing increased loneliness due to social distancing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Of the 1,429 survey participants, 84% were aged 60 or over and had an average social network of five people.

The participants socialised five days a week and for more than six and a half hours a week on average.

More than half (56%) said social distancing regulations made them experience more loneliness.

Professor Anna Whittaker, of the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, led the work and hopes it will help to inform decision-making on the virus and support post-pandemic recovery strategies.

She said: “Previous studies have demonstrated the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness.

“This is a key issue for older adults who may be more likely to have few social contacts.

“We know that social distancing guidelines introduced in response to coronavirus have restricted social activity engagement and impacted vulnerable groups, including older adults.”

Prof Whittaker added: “Our study, which involved a survey of more than 1,400 older people, examined the impact of social distancing during the pandemic on social activity, loneliness and wellbeing.

“The majority of survey participants reported that social distancing has made them experience more loneliness, social contact with fewer people, and less social contact overall.

“We found that a larger social network and better perceived social support seems to be protective against loneliness and poorer health and wellbeing, due to social distancing.

“This underlines the importance of addressing loneliness and social contact in older adults, but particularly during pandemics or situations where the risk of isolation is high.”

The survey also looked at physical exercise during lockdown.

The majority of participants reported continuing to meet physical activity guidelines during lockdown – with 35% moderately active and 41% highly active.

Walking was the greatest contributor to total physical activity, with just over a quarter (26.4%) walking more than before lockdown.

Those living in rural areas reported greater volumes of physical activity.

About 40% of people said they were walking less compared with before lockdown.

Those who reported in engaging in lower physical activity had poorer wellbeing.

Professor Whittaker said: “Physical activity engagement during lockdown varied and this study indicates a positive link with wellbeing – supporting the notion that physical activity should be considered an important contributor in recovery strategies targeted at older adults as we emerge from the pandemic.

“There appears to be a relationship between pre-lockdown physical activity and physical activity changes due to lockdown.

“This may be of significance in the context of trying to get older adults to maintain or increase physical activity, where appropriate, as we emerge from this pandemic, given our understanding of the benefits of physical activity in this age group.”